- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Ford Motor Co. will replace all Firestone Wilderness AT tires still on its vehicles, the auto manufacturer said yesterday. The recall of up to 13 million tires will dwarf last summers massive tire recall by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
The Wilderness AT is the standard tire on the Ford Explorer, the worlds best-selling sport utility vehicle. About 80 percent of the recalled tires are on Explorers.
The Wilderness tires on the Explorer sport utility vehicles and other Ford automobiles have been failing three times faster than the industry average, Ford says.
The company issued the recall because of Bridgestone/Firestones refusal to expand last summers recall that covered 6.5 million Wilderness tires, some of which suffered sudden tread separations. Ford says the current tire problems are not as severe as the ones involved in last years recall but still merit action.
"There are early warning signs about these tires, and we will not ignore them," Ford Chief Executive Jacques Nasser said at a press conference yesterday.
Ford will spend $2.1 billion to recall the tires over the next nine months, the company said.
Meanwhile, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. again denied Fords allegations that its tires were unsafe.
Local Ford customers said yesterday the recall did not shake their confidence in the auto manufacturer.
"I hope I dont get a recall," said Mark France of Upper Marlboro. "I think about it when I go long distance."
He said he blamed the tire industry, not Ford, for the continuing tire problems. He sat in his Ford F-150 pickup with Firestone Wilderness tires outside the Koons College Park Ford dealership.
Customers will be able to return tires covered by the recall to Ford dealers and get free replacements. The company plans to replace older tires first and contact owners by mail. Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., great-grandson of the founders of both Ford and Firestone, made the announcement at company headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
Joe Oddo, manager of Ted Britt Ford in Fairfax, said the number of people on waiting lists would determine the length of delays for replacement of recalled tires.
During the recall last summer, "Some waited a week, some waited a couple of months," Mr. Oddo said.
Last years recall, which was half as large as the one Ford announced yesterday, affected about 1,000 of Ted Britt Fords customers, he said.
The 6.5 million Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires in last summers recall have been linked to at least 174 U.S. traffic deaths and more than 700 injuries, most of them involving rollovers of the Explorer after the tread separated from the tires.
Bridgestone/Firestone officials acknowledge problems with some Wilderness AT tires but say the design of the Explorer and Fords decision to recommend a lower inflation level than the tire maker suggested also were factors. Ford disputes that contention.
Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Commerce Committee, who held hearings on the tires in the fall, said another round of hearings would be held after Memorial Day and would include a review of Fords findings on the Firestone tires and the Explorer design.
In a statement yesterday, Bridgestone/Firestone President and Chief Executive John Lampe applauded Mr. Tauzins call for new hearings.
"As I told Chairman Tauzin last evening, we believe there are significant safety concerns with a substantial segment of Ford Explorers. We look forward to presenting our information to the committee and showing them our tires are safe," Mr. Lampe wrote.
Fords recall announcement came a day after Bridgestone/Firestone severed a 95-year relationship with Ford that began when Harvey Firestone agreed to supply tires for Henry Fords Model T. The relationship was strained following last summers recall and the public finger-pointing by the companies that has occurred since.
Officials from both companies met Monday at Bridgestone/Firestones Nashville, Tenn., headquarters. The two sides could not agree on analyses of the problem leading to the recall.
Hyattsville resident John Morgan said his faith in Ford automobiles remains unshaken.
"Ford has always had high quality vehicles," Mr. Morgan said after parking his car in front of the College Park Ford dealership. "I believe that whatever Ford believes needs to be done to rectify the problem should be done."
A D.C. corrections officer standing nearby waiting for his pickup to be returned from the service department, and who asked that his name not be used, said, "I believe Ford makes the best truck out there."
He also said some of the blame for the Explorer rollovers might lie with the drivers. "You cant do the same things in an SUV that you can in a car," he said.
Less impressed by Fords reputation for quality was the Washington-based consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, which has been pushing for a wider tire recall since last summer.
"Its about time that Ford makes things right for the millions of Explorer customers driving on dangerous, shred-prone Firestone Wilderness AT tires," the group said in a statement. "The summer heat is almost upon us and peoples lives are literally riding on their tires."
* Kate Royce contributed to this story.


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