WASHINGTON (Dec. 15, 2000)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. met with government officials during the past week while plaintiffs´ attorneys claimed they had proof that problems with Firestone tires are far broader than covered by the recall.
Meanwhile, a BFS spokesman denied a USA Today report that the tire maker and Ford would offer conclusions about what caused the tread separations leading to the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires. The spokesman also said the article got several major details flatly wrong.
Published Dec. 11, the article on the front page of USA Today said BFS and Ford would meet with officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that day, and would present similar conclusions about the cause of the tread separations on the ATX and Wilderness tires, most of which were installed on Ford Explorers.
The article said the companies´ conclusions would concentrate on the "adhesives" between the tires´ steel belts and the design in the belt wedge areas.
The BFS spokesman, however, said, "We´re not at a point to reach conclusions." The company´s meeting with NHTSA was not scheduled till later in the week, and not in tandem with Ford, he said.
It was one of a series of meetings the Nashville-based tire maker has had with the agency since the recall began Aug. 9, and covered the latest information BFS had gathered on the tires, including field and technical laboratory testing, data from the recalled and failed tires and computer modeling, the spokesman said.
Also, the USA Today article erred in referring to adhesives in connection with the ATX and Wilderness tires, according to the spokesman. "We don´t use adhesives on those tires," he said. "We are investigating the adhesion between the belts, not adhesives."
In a press release early in November, BFS said it was "taking a hard look" at the components and materials in the ATX and Wilderness tires, particularly the interbelt material "which is an important factor in the strength between the steel belts."
The spokesman said the company still plans to complete its investigation early next year, and also to have the final report from Sanjay Govindjee—the University of California expert it hired to study the tread separations—around that time.
One day after the USA Today report, the Wall Street Journal reported the findings of one plaintiffs´ attorney and one group representing plaintiffs´ attorneys that most complaints about Firestone tires involve neither the 6.5 million recalled tires nor the 1.4 million extra tires NHTSA named in a Sept. 1 consumer advisory.
Richard Newsome, an Orlando, Fla., attorney, said he had investigated some 2,500 complaints against ATX and Wilderness tires that were contained in documents made public as part of a Texas lawsuit. Of 1,659 complaints in which the tire could be identified, 851 weren´t included in the recall, he said.
Also, Strategic Safety L.L.C., an Arlington, Va.-based public advocacy group funded by plaintiffs´ attorneys, said it had examined the 4,308 complaints NHTSA has on file about Firestone tires. Of the 1,963 in which it is possible to identify the model and size of the tire, the group said, only 284 were included either in the recall or the consumer advisory.
Mr. Newsome couldn´t be reached for further comment at presstime, and Strategic Safety said only that the numbers quoted in the Wall Street Journal article were correct. But the BFS spokesman said it was impossible for the company to comment without further information.
"We haven´t seen the reports, documents, research or whatever you call it that they have put together," he said. The population of the tires in question was the crucial aspect, he added.
"If you have a population of 10 million tires and have 200 complaints on file, that´s not an outsize number," he said. "But if you have 5 million tires and 200 complaints, that´s a much higher percentage. The population of tires we included in the recall was much broader than requested, but we wanted to take care of public concerns, and we feel we have done that."
John T. Lampe, chairman and CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone, announced late in November that the company had replaced 5.5 million tires and had enough tires on hand to replace the remaining 1 million in the recall.
Once the recall is over, Mr. Lampe added, BFS will begin the process of rebuilding its reputation. On Dec. 11, the company announced it had signed a contract with Grey Worldwide New York to launch a major print and broadcast ad campaign early in 2001. The spokesman couldn´t give a date for the first appearance of the new ads.