- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

DETROIT (AP) Ford Motor Co. will halt production at three truck plants for more than a week to free up 70,000 tires for use as replacements in a recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires.

The plants in St. Paul, Minn.; Edison, N.J.; and Hazelwood, Mo., will close from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8 so that 15-inch tires used in production of Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles and Ford Ranger pickups can be sent to Ford and Lincoln/Mercury dealers. The plants employ about 6,000 workers, who still will be paid.

Ford Chief Executive Jac Nasser explained the announcement in a TV ad prepared for airing during ABC's "Monday Night Football."

"You have my personal guarantee that all of the resources of Ford Motor Company are being directed to resolve this situation," Mr. Nasser says in the ad.

Bridgestone/Firestone has recalled all 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.

Martin Inglis, vice president for Ford North America, said the shutdown will cut about 25,000 vehicles from Ford's production 15,000 Rangers and 10,000 Explorers/ Mountaineers. Not all of them would have received P235/75R15 tires that can be used as replacement tires under the recall.

Mr. Inglis 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," Mr. Inglis said. "The action will help us close the gap between supply and demand."

The recall of Bridgestone/ Firestone tires has created an apparent nationwide shortage of 15-inch tires, even as Ford has authorized more than 30 brands to replace recalled Firestone tires.

Meanwhile yesterday, a safety group that pushed for 1970s recalls of the Ford Pinto and 14.5 million Firestone 500 tires filed a lawsuit to force Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. to widen the recall beyond those 15-inch truck tires.

The Center for Auto Safety contends that all Firestone radial ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires are defective and should be recalled.

Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone maintain that data on complaints filed by consumers suggest that only the tires under recall have shown a spike in problems with treads separating while vehicles are in motion. Most of the recalled tires were installed on Ford trucks, including the popular Explorer sport utility vehicle.

Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, said the group filed suit because it believed it could move faster than the federal government to force a wider recall.

"We need to take all possible actions to get this defect remedied," Mr. Ditlow said.

Limiting the recall to one size and one plant made no sense, Mr. Ditlow said. 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 also should be recalled, he said. If the problem is a design defect, 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' data show only the models recalled have been linked to problems.

"We'd be happy to review the data, if any, that Mr. Ditlow used in determining that other tires should be recalled," said Ford spokesman Jon Harmon. "All the data Ford, Firestone and NHTSA has seen indicates the recalled population of tires are the ones needing to be recalled, and the other tires are performing very well.

"It would be irresponsible to recall perfectly good tires, because it would delay getting safe tires to customers who need them," Mr. Harmon said.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington. Several attorneys around the country have filed lawsuits seeking class-action status to represent consumers hurt by the recall. Attorneys general in several states also have said they were investigating the tires and the recall.

Meanwhile, Ford told analysts in a conference call yesterday that Explorer sales had slowed slightly since the recall began, and likely would be down for the month.

George Pipas, Ford's director of sales analysis, said the recall might be a reason for the decline, but new incentives on SUVs from other automakers also might contribute. He noted that Explorer was at 97 percent of its sales objective for the month better than other Ford cars and trucks.

"It's impossible to tease out the impact of one factor versus another," he said. "It's still doing very well, but the sales pace has declined somewhat since earlier this month."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide