NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 10, 2000)—Wide gaps in consumer claims involving 6.5 million recalled tires are steering Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. toward design and manufacturing explanations, according to a BFS press release.
Also, Bridgestone/Firestone said it has completed nearly 75 percent of the recall, with more than 4.8 million tires replaced to date.
The Nashville-based tire maker announced its investigation into the root causes of the problems with the recalled 15-inch ATX and Wilderness AT tires simultaneously with the Aug. 9 announcement of the recall.
The following month, BFS hired Sanjay Govindjee, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, to make an in-depth study of the situation.
"No one is more interested in finding the answer than we are," said BFS Chairman, President and CEO John T. Lampe in the Nov. 6 press release.
The company´s technical team is concentrating on "tire design, the tire´s components and external factors," among other things, in its investigation of the problem, Mr. Lampe added.
Among other findings, BFS has discovered that:
* Tread separation claims on 15-inch ATX tires made at the BFS plant in Decatur, Ill., were more than 10 times those made on 15-inch Wilderness AT tires manufactured at the same facility.
"The disparity in the rate of tread separations between the two tires has led the company to closely analyze how the two tires differ in design," the company said.
* Wilderness AT tires made at Decatur had many more claims than the same tires made at Wilson, N.C., or Joliette, Quebec, leading BFS to examine manufacturing practices at Decatur.
* The vast majority of claims on the ATX and Wilderness AT tires involve rear tires, leading the company to research "how the loading or stress from a vehicle affects the overall strength and performance of a tire."
BFS said it is "taking a hard look" at the components and materials in the ATX and Wilderness AT tires, particularly the interbelt material "which is an important factor in the strength between the steel belts." It also is studying factors that cause heat buildup in the belt-edge area.
All of this is substantially what Mr. Lampe and other BFS officials told Senate and House investigators in public hearings back in September. However, their message has been questioned openly by other stakeholders in the recall.
Plaintiffs´ attorneys and consumer advocates insist all ATX and Wilderness AT tires—not just 15-inch tires or those made in Decatur—are inherently defective. Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co.—which installed most of the recalled tires as original equipment on its Explorer and other SUVs—insists the tire alone is at fault, and that the vehicle does not factor into the problem at all.
Bridgestone/Firestone´s OE business with Ford totals about $330 million of its annual tire production of approximately $5.5 billion, a BFS spokesman said.
Mr. Govindjee released preliminary results of his study last month, and is expected to submit his final report to BFS around the beginning of 2001.