Firestone requests government investigation into Explorer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The battle between former business partners Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. intensified Thursday as the tiremaker asked the government to investigate the safety of Ford’s Explorer SUV.
Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John Lampe gave Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta a lengthy report claiming the world’s best-selling sport utility vehicle has a steering problem that contributed to rollovers Ford has blamed on faulty Firestone tires.
Lampe acknowledged past problems with the company’s now-recalled tires, but said investigators must consider whether the Explorer played a role in hundreds of rollover accidents triggered by a tire failure.
”All vehicles have spare tires because tires can lose air. Tires can lose tread. It is a foreseeable problem,” Lampe told reporters after meeting with Mineta. ”What we are concerned about is when something like this happens, a person should be able to pull over and not roll over.”
The government’s auto safety agency has the information under review, said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Ford’s John M. Rintamaki reaffirmed the automaker’s position that the accidents are the result of faulty tires.
”Ford has performed extensive testing of vehicle and tire interaction with Ford and other vehicles and various tires, including Firestone tires. The Explorer performs the same as competitive SUVs before, during and after a tread separation,” he said.
Bridgestone/Firestone has released information critical of the Explorer over the past week, following Ford’s announcement that it was replacing all 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles.
That move, which the tiremaker contended was unwarranted, came after Bridgestone/Firestone said it was ending a 96-year relationship with Ford because of the automaker’s claims about Firestone tires.
The 13 million tires were not included in Bridgestone/Firestone’s August recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.
Federal regulators are investigating those tires to see if the recall is broad enough. At least 174 U.S. traffic deaths and more than 700 injuries have been reported as part of the investigation, most involving rollovers of the Explorer, which has used Wilderness AT tires as standard equipment.
The author of the new report for Bridgestone/Firestone said he tested the steering in the Explorer and two comparable SUVs – the Jeep Cherokee and the Chevy Blazer – as well as the Explorer with Goodyear tires.
”This is a vehicle problem, not a tire problem,” Dennis Guenther, a mechanical engineering professor at Ohio State University, said in a statement.
”The vehicle performs the same following tread separation on the Goodyear tire as it does with the Firestone tire,” said Guenther, who has worked for Ford and other automakers.
He tested all the SUVS with four good tires and with one tire – the left rear – with a tread separation. He also tested the vehicles with light and heavy loads.
Guenther said the Explorer is most likely to experience an ”oversteer” condition when the left rear tire fails. The left rear tire failed most often in the Explorer rollovers involving Firestone tires.
Engineers design passenger vehicles so they ”understeer” when the driver turns the wheel. That prevents the back end from spinning wide, allowing for a more controlled turn.
To compensate, car designers can adjust springs, shocks, the frame, tires, weight or other properties.
On the Net:
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov
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