Ford Halts Production, Shifts Tires


Tuesday, August 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


DETROIT (AP) — Ford says it will shut down truck plants in three states so it can cannibalize 70,000 tires intended for new vehicles and use them as replacements for the Firestone models being recalled.

The unprecedented move by the nation's No. 2 automaker came even as a safety advocacy group filed a lawsuit to force Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. to widen the recall.

Plants in St. Paul, Minn.; Edison, N.J.; and Hazelwood, Mo., will close from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8 so that the tires used on Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles and Ford Ranger pickups can be sent to Ford and Lincoln/Mercury dealers.

``You have my personal guarantee that all of the resources of Ford Motor Company are directed to resolve this situation,'' Ford CEO Jac Nasser said in a TV ad that ran during ABC's ``Monday Night Football.''

Bridgestone/Firestone has recalled some 6.5 million P235/75R15 ATX and ATX II tires as well as 15-inch Wilderness AT tires made at a plant in Decatur, Ill. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 62 deaths and more than 100 injuries that could be linked to those tires.

The Center for Auto Safety, which successfully pushed for recalls of the Ford Pinto and 14.5 million Firestone 500 tires in the 1970s, contends 12 million more Firestone tires — all ATX, ATX II and Wilderness ATs still on the road — should be recalled.

It filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

A Ford spokesman said Monday that the range of the recall was sufficient and the companies were ``moving heaven and earth'' to replace tires.

To increase the supply of replacements, Bridgestone/Firestone said Tuesday that it would airlift an unspecified number of tires from Japan. The company said it would have at least 11 flights from Wednesday through Sunday, and would continue the flights for as long as needed.

Martin Inglis, vice president for Ford North America, said the plant shutdown would cut about 25,000 vehicles from Ford's production — 15,000 Rangers and 10,000 Explorers/Mountaineers.

Not all of those vehicles would have used 15-inch tires — the size currently under scrutiny — but Inglis said there was no way to schedule production without them. The 6,000 workers at the shutdown plants will still get paid.

Inglis also said the move would affect Ford's earnings, but declined to say by how much. He said by mid-September, the tire industry should have ramped up production enough to provide more replacement tires.

``We're doing this to make the most tire replacements into the market now where we know there's a shortage,'' Inglis said. ``The action will help us close the gap between supply and demand.''

The recall of the Firestone tires — most of which were installed on Ford trucks — has created an apparent nationwide shortage of 15-inch tires, even as Ford has authorized more than 30 brands to replace the recalled Firestone tires.

But the Center for Auto Safety contends the recall is not broad enough. Limiting the recall to one size and one plant makes no sense, said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety.

If the problem is with the Decatur plant — where Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have said many of the recalled tires were made — then other tire lines made at the plant should also be recalled, he said. If the problem is a design defect, as the center believes it to be, all the sizes in that design should be recalled.

A spokesman for Ford said the company would look at the group's data, but reiterated that the companies' information shows only the models recalled have been linked to problems.

``It would be irresponsible to recall perfectly good tires, because it would delay getting safe tires to customers who need them,'' said Ford spokesman Jon Harmon.

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On the Net:

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

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

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

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

Tire Industry Safety Council: http://www.tisc.org