NHTSA: Broader Tire Recall Possible

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires may be expanded if an investigation by federal regulators finds more widespread defects.

Sue Bailey, who took over Monday as chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, would not discuss specifics of the investigation but said, ``If we feel there is a defect affecting safety, we will issue a recall.''

Congress also is getting involved. Rep. Tom Bliley, R-Va., who chairs the House Commerce Committee, said he would send four committee aides to Dearborn, Mich., to meet with Ford Motor Co. officials and review company documents related to the recall.

On Friday, Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said some of those aides had arrived in Dearborn and were meeting with Ford officials, though she had no immediate details of what she called the ``fact-finding trip.''

``They simply want to know what's going on because they haven't been intimately involved in the details'' of the recall and what led to it, she said.

The Senate Commerce Committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has scheduled a Sept. 6 hearing and plans to invite Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone officials to testify.

The tires being recalled are standard equipment on the Ford Explorer and other light trucks made by the company.

Bridgestone/Firestone has recalled all P235/75R15 ATX and ATX II tires as well as Wilderness AT tires in the same size made at a plant in Decatur, Ill. NHTSA is investigating 62 deaths and more than 100 injuries that could be linked to those tires, some of which have been reported to suddenly lose their tread.

The Center for Auto Safety filed a lawsuit to force the companies to broaden the recall beyond those 15-inch truck tires to all ATX, ATX II and Wilderness ATs still on the road.

On Thursday, a former tire expert for Bridgestone/Firestone also urged a greater recall, saying that defects in Wilderness, ATX and ATX II tires have been known at the highest levels of company management since the 1970s.

``As long as those tires are being made and used, the potential for more deaths is real,'' said tire consultant Max Nonnamaker.

Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Cynthia McCafferty said the 6.5 million tires recalled are enough.

``We believe that the scope of the recall is appropriate. We are still working very closely with NHTSA on this investigation,'' McCafferty said. ``We still haven't determined that a problem exists with these tires, we've just determined that the problems are of higher instances than with other lines.''

Ford executives said it was irresponsible to call for a wider recall when the companies already are straining to meet demand. All data point to the one recalled tire size as the source of the complaints, they said.

Those calling for a broader recall ``are causing people to be concerned about good tires,'' said Helen Petrauskas, Ford's vice president of safety. ``Every time that happens, it means some customer with bad tires who needs them replaced has to wait that much longer.''

Petrauskas and Tom Baughman, Ford's director of truck engineering for North America, said there was still no cause determined for the reports of tread separation. Ford said as of Thursday afternoon, 861,874 tires had been replaced, 13.3 percent of the total number recalled.


On the Net:

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

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

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

Strategic Safety: http://www.strategicsafety.com

Center for Auto Safety: http://www.autosafety.org