- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2001

Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. are at each others throats like a pair of WWF contenders battling last week before congressional interlocutors in a death-match effort to portray the other before the American people as the guilty (or at least responsible) party in the 200-and-counting deaths related to crashes of Ford Explorer SUVs equipped with Firestone tires.

Firestone CEO John Lampe and Ford CEO Jacques Nasser are no longer on speaking terms after the breakup last month of a relationship between the two companies that spanned a century. Mr. Lampe, who was abruptly informed by Ford that the automaker would no longer be purchasing any tires at all from Firestone a devastating loss for a company that had previously supplied millions of tires to Ford annually publicly began to accuse Ford of "scapegoating" Firestone and of covering up dangerous flaws in the design of the Ford Explorer. It has been Mr. Lampe and Firestone´s claim that the Explorer was inherently unbalanced and more likely to roll over during abrupt maneuvering. To crutch this alleged design defect, Firestone argues, Ford recommended dangerously low inflation pressures that overstressed the tires, leading to premature and often catastrophic failure. As implied evidence of this defect, Mr. Lampe points to the fact that Ford re-engineered the Explorer for the 2002 model year, altering the rear suspension significantly. "Something about the Explorer must account for the high number of tire failures and subsequent rollover accidents," Mr. Lampe said during this week´s congressional testimony.

Mr. Nasser replied that this is "a tire issue and only a tire issue," pointing to data and other evidence suggesting a problem with particular Firestone tires manufactured at a specific facility in Decatur, Ill. However, while Ford previously had expressed confidence in other Firestone tires, it recently and abruptly changed position claiming there were "concerns" about the safety of Firestone tires in general and citing this as the reason for the termination of the automaker´s relationship with Firestone.

As this battle royale has intensified, consumers have been left to wonder who is telling the truth and which company is being less than honest with the public. This is not very confidence-inspiring as millions of Americans get ready to hit the road for summer vacations, many of them in Ford SUVs. Each company is protecting its flank but who is looking out for American motorists?

Clearly, it seems an independent inquiry into the matter is warranted and necessary, given the fact that at this point, the public will likely take what either company says with a grain of salt, fully trusting no report or "data" purporting to "prove" this or that. One wonders where the federal Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been as this fiasco has unfolded. Why have these billion-dollar sinkholes of taxpayer money not performed an investigation (at minimum) or come up with a plan to find out what, exactly, is wrong? The public has a right to know.

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