US To Warn About Another 1.4M Tires


Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Clinton administration issued a consumer warning Friday saying about 1.4 million Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires are susceptible to tread separation problems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a statement saying the decision to put out the ``consumer advisory'' came after Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. refused to expand its voluntary 3-week-old recall beyond 6.5 million tires.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said the agency cannot order a recall to be expanded until it completes an investigation, so the advisory was the agency's only alternative.

The advisory differs from a recall in that the company cited does not replace the product. NHTSA suggested consumers replace the tires in question and save receipts.

The warning covers additional 15-inch Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires, and some 16-inch models of the same brands.

NHTSA says many of the tires covered by the advisory were manufactured many years ago so it is likely far fewer than 1.4 million are on the road. Most of the tires were manufactured as replacements and were not standard on new vehicles.

A NHTSA source said Friday the agency has upgraded its investigation of about 47 million Firestone tires from a preliminary investigation, in which the agency asks for paperwork, to an engineering analysis, during which engineers study parts to see if they are defective.

The announcement comes one day after the government said 26 more U.S. traffic deaths — for a total of 88 — are under investigation in connection with recalled Firestone tires.

Meantime, Venezuelan authorities have recommended criminal prosecution of Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone for deaths there. Firestone tires are standard equipment on Explorers and other Ford vehicles.

Congress prepared for hearings featuring testimony from the heads of both companies, while Firestone was trying to avoid a strike by 8,000 workers.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said Friday the Clinton administration will confer with Congress to determine whether manufacturers should be required to notify the U.S. government when they recall products abroad, as Ford did with Firestone tires a year ago.

``As relates to the international recall, we were a bit concerned to learn that we found out about that much later,'' Slater said on NBC's ``Today.'' ``It would have been good to have that information earlier. It could have prompted us to take action a bit earlier.''

NHTSA has received more than 1,400 complaints about the Firestone tires, including reports of 88 deaths and more than 250 injuries that reportedly were the result of blowouts, tread separation and other tire defects.

NHTSA is examining all 47 million Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires.

Congress is holding a hearing on the matter next week, and Ford chief executive Jac Nasser announced Thursday that he would testify, reversing his earlier decision not to attend. Bridgestone/Firestone chief executive Masatoshi Ono also will appear at the Wednesday hearing before two House Commerce subcommittees.

The Venezuelan consumer protection agency, known as Indecu, issued a report Thursday to the country's attorney general alleging that Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone suppressed information about defects in Firestone Wilderness tires.

Indecu President Samuel Ruh said that as complaints about the tires increased, the companies held a secret meeting in early 1999 where they agreed to change the tire design rather than issue a recall. Ford eventually recalled tires in some foreign countries in August 1999, and in Venezuela last May.

The delay, the report said, could have resulted in ``many consumers of their products losing their lives or the lives of their loved ones.''

Chief Indecu investigator Jorge Dominguez said ``approximately 46 deaths'' in Venezuela could be linked to accidents involving Ford Explorers and Firestone tires.

Nasser insisted Ford did not cover up the problem.

``I want to just emphasize the accusation from the Venezuelan government official that Ford Venezuela lied is completely unfounded,'' he said. ``We did not lie to the Venezuelan government.''

Nasser emphasized the problem ``was a tire issue, not a vehicle issue.''

Ruh said a conviction for involuntary manslaughter in product liability cases could result in jail terms of three years to eight years under Venezuelan law. The attorney general will decide whether to bring criminal charges, he said.

Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said the company takes the matter ``very seriously'' and will work with Ford and Indecu to resolve the issues.

``We do not, do not believe there was a conspiracy,'' Karbowiak said.

The company had replaced 1.5 million tires as of Thursday and had a jumbo cargo jet to transport tires from Japan, she said, adding that it also hired an independent third party, which she would not identify, to investigate the case.

Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have said they do not know what caused the problems but have denied allegations by trial attorneys and some safety advocates that they stem from poor tire design, a tire inflation recommendation from Ford that was too low, or both.

Bridgestone/Firestone has entered a final day of contract negotiations with about 8,000 steelworkers at nine of its plants. The United Steelworkers of America are prepared to picket the tire maker unless a contract agreement is reached by midnight Friday.

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On the Net:

Bridgestone/Firestone: http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov



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