WASHINGTON (Sept. 4, 2000) — Ford Motor Co. CEO Jacques Nasser faces a potentially hostile environment this week when he goes to Capitol Hill.
Victims of tire failures have been invited to participate in congressional hearings about possibly defective Firestone tires on Ford light trucks, a congressional staffer confirmed.
After first saying he was too busy overseeing tire replacements, Mr. Nasser did an about-face late last week and said he will appear before lawmakers when the hearings begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6.
The sessions will be conducted jointly by two subcommittees of the House Commerce Committee. They are the subcommittees on consumer protection and on investigations and oversight. The Senate Commerce Committee has pushed its hearings back to Sept. 12.
"We don´t care why he changed his mind. We´re just glad he did," said Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House consumer protection panel.
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.´s recall of 6.5 million Radial ATX, Radial ATX II and Wilderness AT tire continued to grow last week. In other developments:
*The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a consumer advisory indicating that an additional 1.4 million tires manufactured by Bridgestone/Firestone have the same high rate of tread separation as those already being recalled.
*Venezuelan officials said Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. "shared responsibility" for fatal crashes of Firestone-equipped Explorers and other vehicles there. Officials of both companies may be prosecuted for "suppressing information" about defects.
*Domestically, Ford and Firestone — already answering to federal regulators, lawmakers and the courts — faced the prospect of a new round of legal challenges from state attorneys general. The most ominous: The Florida attorney general´s office issued a broad subpoena for records from the companies and said it was considering investigating them for "civil racketeering."
*In a case not directly related to tires, Ford´s reputation was dealt a blow when a California judge harshly chastised the automaker for withholding product safety information from government agencies.
Ruling in a class-action suit over a Ford ignition part, California Superior Court Judge Michael Ballachey characterized the company´s responses to federal safety regulators this way:
"Ford´s strategy, clearly established by the credible evidence, was: If you don´t ask the right question, we don´t have to answer with what common sense tells us you want to know."
The judge said he plans to order restitution for Californians who paid to fix the part and may order a recall of 1.8 million Ford vehicles in the state. The part, called thick film ignition, is a safety hazard because it malfunctions when hot and makes vehicles stall, plaintiffs charged. Ford denied the charges.