Tauzin ripped for not disclosing more about replacement tires
WASHINGTON (AP) – The head of a committee investigating tire safety said Tuesday he has data showing Ford Motor Co. is replacing Firestone tires with other brands that fail more often, but he refused to make the information public.
The move by House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., prompted strong criticism by ranking Democrat John Dingell of Michigan and Ford CEO Jacques Nasser. They said Tauzin has a responsibility to let the public know such information.
”If we have a brand name that is defective, … at least tell the American people the brand names,” Dingell said during a hearing.
Later, Tauzin identified two tire brands, the Goodyear Wrangler HT and the General Grabber AP XL, but did not identify five other brands his office said congressional investigators determined had higher failure rates than the Firestone Wilderness AT tires Ford recalled last month.
The replacement tires are made by Michelin, Continental, Goodyear, BF Goodrich and Uniroyal.
Tauzin said he wants to give federal highway safety experts a month to review the information that the committee collected before revealing all the brands.
He said the data show that one of the replacement tires has a property damage claims rate of 124 per million tires, well above the nine claims per million that Lampe said is the average for the Wilderness AT tires being replaced by Ford. Ford had told congressional investigators that the Wilderness AT tires it is replacing had 15 claims per million.
”Are we going to be replacing worse tires for the tires that come off these cars?” Tauzin asked Nasser.
”Mr. Chairman, we shouldn’t be waiting 30 days,” Nasser replied angrily. ”If that data you have is accurate, we should be acting in 30 minutes.”
Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of transportation, testified after Nasser and told the committee the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would give a preliminary response to the data on Wednesday.
Officials from Goodyear and Continental, which also manufactures the General tire brand, said they could not comment until they have had time to review the numbers Tauzin cited.
Goodyear spokesman Chuck Sinclair said the tire maker is not aware of any injuries or deaths caused by tread separations for any of the replacement tires it supplied to Ford.
Ford does not have access to the same information as Tauzin’s committee because tire makers keep their property damage claims rates confidential. The Commerce Committee has been collecting that information from tire makers for several months.
Ford officials previously said they asked NHTSA about the replacement tires they planned to use and the agency did not raise any safety concerns. But Tauzin noted that NHTSA never approved any of the tires that Ford decided to use.
”How can you justify replacing a tire that fails 15 out of a million with a tire that has a claims rate failure of 124 out of a million, and are we going to be in another cycle of recall later on?” Tauzin said.
”We can’t justify it if the facts are right,” Nasser said.
The Wilderness AT has been at the center of a nearly yearlong debate over the safety of Firestone tires. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.’s voluntary recall of 6.5 million tires last August included the 15-inch version of the Wilderness AT, made at its plant in Decatur, Ill.
The company insisted that other sizes of the tire made at other plants were safe. But last month Ford said it was still concerned about safety and announced it would replace all 13 million Wilderness ATs still on its vehicles.
The Wilderness AT had been standard equipment on the Ford Explorer, the world’s best-selling sport utility vehicle. Many of the 203 fatal accidents among the thousands of crashes reported to the highway safety administration in the last year were rollovers of the Explorer that occurred after the tires failed.
Ford insists the problem is the result of flawed tires, but Bridgestone/Firestone says the design of the Explorer also is a factor.
”Ford can replace all our Wilderness AT tires, but Explorers will continue to roll over, and we need to understand why,” said Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John Lampe.
More than 2,000 auto workers from around the country drove to the Capitol in a caravan of Ford Explorers Tuesday to tell Congress that the vehicles they make are safe, despite claims that the popular SUV has design flaws.
United Auto Workers members crowded the park across from the Capitol, waving placards that read ”Quality People, Quality Cars,” ”Quality is my final answer” and ”UAW makes safety 1.”
Jackson said NHTSA planned to finish its investigation within a month. He said the agency was also reviewing Firestone’s claim that the Explorer has a steering problem that leads to more rollovers when a tire fails and would decide whether to open an investigation into the Explorer this summer.
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