Bridgestone/Firestone says no need to issue broader recall
WASHINGTON (AP) – Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has refused the federal government’s request to expand its recall of 6.5 million tires and is preparing to fight an order to remove the tires from American roads.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has finished its investigation into the tires and is prepared to declare that a larger recall is needed to protect consumers’ safety.
The agency asked Bridgestone/Firestone to recall more tires during a private meeting Thursday, but the company refused and negotiations ended.
The agency and Bridgestone/Firestone refused to say how large of an expanded recall NHTSA is seeking or which tires are involved. The department also would not say when the findings would be announced.
”NHTSA’s responsibility is the safety of the American people, and we will adhere to a process that will ensure the recall of unsafe tires,” the U.S. Transportation Department said in a statement. The department oversees NHTSA.
Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John Lampe said he expects that NHTSA’s recall order will include two sizes of Wilderness AT tires sold as original equipment on the Ford Explorer. But he said the company has found no safety problems warranting a wider recall.
The company’s previous recall included the P235/75R15 size ATX and ATX II tires and the P235/75R15 size Wilderness AT tires made at its plant in Decatur, Ill. Millions more Wilderness AT tires of different sizes are on the road, but Bridgestone/Firestone said it did not know how many.
Ford Motor Co. announced in May that it was concerned with the safety of all sizes of the Wilderness AT tires and would replace all 13 million on its vehicles.
If Bridgestone/Firestone is forced to recall the tires Ford is replacing, the automaker could demand payment to recover the $2.1 billion it spent on the campaign. Ford spokesman Ken Zino said it’s too early to tell if the company would do so.
Such a move could be devastating for Bridgestone/Firestone, which already has spent more than $900 million on the recall and faces hundreds of lawsuits. The company is also closing its Decatur plant because of lower sales.
Any order for a broader recall from NHTSA would be subject to a public hearing and a final ruling could be challenged in federal court. Such court challenges are extremely rare and could take years to resolve.
”I don’t know how long that litigation would take and I would frankly hate for it to get to that point,” Lampe said. ”But if that’s what we need to prove our position and make our case, that’s what we will do.”
At least 203 deaths and more than 700 injuries have been linked to Firestone tire failures in the United States. Many involved rollovers of the popular Ford Explorer, which used the tires as standard equipment.
Bridgestone/Firestone has acknowledged problems with the recalled tires, but says the Explorer design is partly to blame for the accidents. It has urged NHTSA to investigate the sport utility vehicle.
That claim, strongly rejected by Ford, prompted the automaker to end a centurylong relationship with Bridgestone/Firestone.
NHTSA opened its Firestone investigation more than a year ago and has been reviewing the safety record of more than 55 million tires. NHTSA also has been investigating the safety of the tires Ford is using to replace the Firestones.
NHTSA officials are prepared to tell congressional investigators on Friday that most of the replacement tires have no significant safety problems, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
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