- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

The battle between former business partners Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. intensified yesterday as the tire maker asked the government to investigate the safety of Fords Explorer sport utility vehicle.
Bridgestone/Firestone Chief Executive John Lampe gave Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta a lengthy report claiming the worlds best-selling SUV has a steering problem that contributed to rollovers Ford has blamed on faulty Firestone tires.
Mr. Lampe acknowledged past problems with the companys 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," Mr. Lampe said after meeting with Mr. 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 governments auto-safety agency has the information under review, said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Fords John M. Rintamaki reaffirmed the automakers 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 Fords announcement that it would spend $3 billion to replace all 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles.
That move, which the tire maker said was unwarranted, came after Firestone dropped Ford as a customer, saying there was little trust left between the two companies, whose relationship goes back 96 years.
The 13 million tires were not included in Bridgestone/Firestones 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 Bridgestone/Firestone report said he tested the steering in the Explorer and two comparable SUVs — the Jeep Cherokee and the Chevrolet 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 Mr. 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.


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