- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration yesterday denied Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s request for a defect investigation into the Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle.
The request came after a dispute between the tire maker and Ford Motor Co. over what caused Firestone tires to experience tread separations leading to rollover accidents, especially on Ford Explorers, on which they were installed as original equipment.
NHTSA said the decision followed "an extensive analysis of agency data and information provided by Firestone and Ford."
"The data does not support Firestone's contention that Explorers stand out from other SUVs with respect to its handling characteristics following a tread separation," NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge said.
"NHTSA has made its determination," said Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina. She declined to comment further.
The tread separations on Firestone tires have been blamed for 271 deaths and hundreds of injuries, some of which occurred when the Ford Explorers on which they were mounted rolled over.
In August 2000, Bridgestone/Firestone began the recall of 6.5 million tires after NHTSA found safety defects in some Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.
In May 2001, Ford began a $3 billion program to replace the remaining 13 million Wilderness AT tires.
Then, on May 31, Bridgestone/Firestone Chairman and CEO John Lampe sent a letter to NHTSA requesting the agency open an investigation into the Ford Explorer. It was not a formal petition requesting an investigation.
The letter cited results of research performed by Dennis Guenther, a mechanical-engineering professor at Ohio State University who was hired by the tire maker.
"This is consistent with the real-world performance data showing the Explorer to be among the safest of vehicles and NHTSA's previous finding that many Firestone Wilderness AT tires built before 1998 contain a safety defect," said Sue Cischke, Ford's vice president for environment and safety engineering.
A report released in October by NHTSA found a safety defect in Firestone tires and downplayed the role of the Ford Explorer in tread separation and rollover accidents.


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