ARLINGTON, Va. (Aug. 2, 2000) — An auto safety advocacy and research group is urging Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS) to recall all Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone ATX, ATX II or Wilderness radial tires manufactured between the 1991 and 2000 model years.
Arlington-based Strategic Safety claims it "is aware of nearly 100 fatal or serious injury incidents" involving the Firestone tires on the Ford sports-utility vehicle. It also said that Ford has already recalled the 1996-99 Explorer in Venezuela because of tread separation problems.
Bridgestone/Firestone, however, dismissed Strategic Safety as a shill for plaintiffs´ attorneys, and both BFS and Ford said the Venezuelan recall had nothing to do with the inherent quality of the ATX or Wilderness tires.
NHTSA began its investigation into the Explorer-ATX issue May 2, after receiving 90 complaints including reports of 33 crashes, 27 injuries and four deaths. Ford, meanwhile, said it knew of about 25 product liability lawsuits involving alleged tread separation, the last two filed in Jacksonville, Fla., in July. But the only one brought to trial so far resulted in vindication for Ford and the tire company, Ford said.
Sean Kane, a partner and co-founder in Strategic Safety, said his group knew of "at least 100 cases in litigation" involving the Explorer and its original equipment tires.
"Ford may or may not be a defendant in all of them, and also Ford has settled its part of a number of these cases," Mr. Kane said.
Strategic Safety, on its Web site, said the Firestone tires "appear to have a long tread life that may exceed its (sic) internal design capabilities."
Ford, in a June 16 letter to NHTSA, said it had "identified over 500 potentially related lawsuit and claim files" involving the Explorer and the Firestone tires.
Mr. Kane said his group found out about Ford´s recall of Explorers in Venezuela from a paragraph in El Nacional, Venezuela´s biggest newspaper. "We don´t understand why they´re recalling Explorers in Venezuela but not taking care of the problem in the United States," he said.
In a prepared statement, Nashville-based BFS blasted Strategic Safety as "a profit-making firm that works to make as much money as possible by helping their personal-injury law firm clients publicize product liability lawsuits that can generate high legal fees." It dismissed the group´s statement as "misleading" and written "with no first-hand knowledge of the situation."
From its Detroit headquarters, Ford said the Venezuelan recall was motivated by "a number of external factors," including tire underinflation, overloading, tire damage, bad repairs and excess wear.
"In addition, many of the incidents in Venezuela occurred after driving at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour for multiple hours in extreme heat," the auto maker said in a prepared statement. It undertook the recall "in the interest of customer satisfaction," it said.
Meanwhile, an Aug. 1 report from Bloomberg News Service in Tokyo said Bridgestone Corp.´s stock price fell 70 yen, to 2,445, on the Nikkei stock exchange, largely because of the Strategic Safety report.