FORD disputes report it will call for broader tire recall

Saturday, May 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. says it has not decided whether to demand a broader recall of Firestone tires, despite a published report that it is leaning toward such a demand.

A report published Friday in The New York Times said the automaker had decided there were problems with tires beyond the 6.5 million recalled last year.

But Ford spokesman Ken Zino said ``no conclusions'' have been made by the company.

Ford and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had a closed-door meeting Thursday night, according to a source familiar with the talks who spoke on a condition of anonymity.

Ford officials reportedly told NHTSA the company believes the Wilderness AT tires had a defective design and that the company would replace all those tires already installed on their vehicles, regardless of whether Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. recalls them.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson would not confirm such a meeting took place.

Zino said: ``We meet regularly.''

Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina said the tiremaker believes last year's recall was ``more than adequate to protect the safety of the public.''

Bridgestone/Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires in August, many of which were sold as original equipment on Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles. The recall included all 15-inch ATX and ATX II tires and the 15-inch Wilderness AT tires built at its plant in Decatur, Ill.

NHTSA is investigating reports of at least 174 U.S. deaths and more than 700 injuries involving blowouts, tread separations and other problems with the tires.

In several of the accidents, the Explorer rolled over, raising questions about the safety of the world's best-selling sport utility vehicle.

While Ford has maintained all along the problem was exclusively with the tires, Bridgestone/Firestone insists the relationship between the tire and vehicle should be considered.

The NHTSA investigation is expected to take at least another three months, Tyson said.