Ford to recall millions more Firestone tires
WASHINGTON (AP) – Ford Motor Co. plans to replace 10 million to 13 million Firestone tires, far surpassing the already huge recall ordered last summer by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., auto industry sources told The Associated Press late Monday.
Earlier in the day, Bridgestone/Firestone said it no longer would sell tires to Ford, ending a 95-year relationship that began with the Model T but unraveled with last summer’s recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires amid reports the tires would suddenly fail.
The tires, standard equipment on the Ford Explorer, the world’s best-selling sport utility vehicle, have been linked to at least 174 U.S. traffic deaths.
Ford CEO Jacques Nasser will fly to Washington on Tuesday morning to brief lawmakers on the new replacement plan, then make an announcement later in the day at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., industry sources said.
Ford officials issued a statement from Nasser saying he would make an announcement Tuesday about ”actions to address” issues involving Firestone Wilderness AT tires.
Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina said the company still believes its own recall was broad enough and that any replacements by Ford would be unnecessary. She also repeated the company’s claim that the design of the Explorer needs to be examined to see if it played a role in the accidents.
”Our tires are not defective,” Bratina said. ”We believe the August recall was more than adequate to protect the public, and more importantly, when you look at the data, you’ll see the differences when these tires are on Ford Explorers and other vehicles, and we need to understand why.”
Bridgestone/Firestone says customers file 10 times more claims for tires on the Explorer than for the same tire brand on the Ford Ranger.
John Lampe, Bridgestone/Firestone chief executive and president, said Ford has not been forthcoming in its dealings with the company. ”We have tried to get information, tried to work together with Ford on the vehicle side of this problem and have been absolutely unsuccessful in doing that,” he said on CNN’s ”Lou Dobbs Moneyline.”
As for Ford’s new tire-replacement plan, he said, ”I have still have not heard or had anything confirmed that they have made that decision.”
Most of the recalled tires were sold as original equipment on the Ford Explorer. Most deaths occurred when a tire failed and the Explorer rolled over, but Ford officials have repeatedly said the SUV’s design was not a factor in the crashes and that the tires were solely to blame.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating all 47 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires to make sure the recall of 6.5 million tires was adequate. The investigation is expected to take at least three more months.
Federal investigators have collected more than 6,000 accident reports linked to blowouts, tread separations and other problems with the tires. Safety groups have said a broader recall would help assure all the defective tires are taken off the road.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have blamed each other for the recall and the public relations problems related to it.
”Business relationships, like personal ones, are built upon trust and mutual respect,” Lampe wrote in a letter to Nasser. ”We have come to the conclusion that we can no longer supply tires to Ford since the basic foundation of our relationship has been seriously eroded.”
Lampe wrote the letter Monday after meeting with Ford officials, including Carlos Mazzorin, Ford’s group vice president for global purchasing, at the tiremaker’s Nashville, Tenn., headquarters. He said they could not agree on analyses of the problem leading to the recall.
The decision ends a relationship that began in 1906 when Henry Ford was standardizing his Model T and ordered 8,000 tires from friend Harvey Firestone. Ford and Firestone later became family when their grandchildren – William Clay Ford and Martha Parke Firestone – married in 1947. Current Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. is a descendant of both men.
”We are deeply disappointed … that Firestone decided not to work together for the safety of our shared customers, which is the only issue that matters,” Nasser said in a statement that faulted Firestone tires for the safety problems.
Lampe would not discuss the value of Ford’s business with Firestone, but said it represented 5 percent of the tiremaker’s total revenue. Last year, Firestone had $18.6 billion in sales.
Both companies have analyzed the tire failure and concluded it was a problem with the design and a unique manufacturing process at Bridgestone/Firestone’s plant in Decatur, Ill.
However, Bridgestone/Firestone officials said the Explorer’s design and Ford’s decision to recommend an inflation level lower than what the tiremaker suggested also played a role.
Both companies, which face hundreds of lawsuits over the accidents, said they thought the recall was adequate to cover all defective tires. But last week Ford officials told federal investigators they are concerned Wilderness ATs not included in the recall might pose safety problems.
Lampe sent Nasser a letter Friday saying he was outraged to learn of the meeting through the media.
”This is not a decision we make lightly after almost 100 years of history,” Lampe wrote. ”But, we must look to the future and the best interests of our company, our employees and our other customers.”
He said Ford has not cooperated with Firestone since the recall, despite a public pledge to share information and work together.
”Ford simply is not willing to do that,” Lampe said. ”We believe they are attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires.”
Ford has said its costs relating to the tire recall totaled about $500 million. Lampe has said Bridgestone/Firestone spent at least $450 million on the recall and recently began a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to assure the public its tires are safe.
On Sunday, Ford announced a recall of more than 50,000 new Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers because some tires may accidentally have been cut by a narrow assembly line. The tires involved are Goodyear and Michelin brands. Ford said the cuts are cosmetic and do not affect tire performance.
Associated Press writer Karin Miller in Nashville contributed to this story.
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