WASHINGTON (Jan 5, 2001)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. used "a very selective and limited database" which caused them to underestimate their recall of Wilderness AT tires by at least 5.6 million, according to two safety watchdog groups.
The Jan. 4 report by Public Citizen and Safetyforum.com, however, is "simply a repackaging of the same unsubstantiated allegations they, and the plaintiffs´ attorneys who support them, have made since the recall began," Bridgestone/Firestone responded in a prepared statement.
Ford, meanwhile, insisted the recall "was based on solid data" and cited its new "early warning system" for detecting possible tire defects, including its recently announced tire defect warranties.
BFS and Ford should immediately expand the recall of 6.5 million 15-inch ATX and Wilderness AT tires to include all 15- and 16-inch Wilderness tires of the type which are original equipment on the Ford Explorer, the safety groups said. "The best available data indicate that this amounts to 5.6 million 15-inch tires and a much smaller number of 16-inch tires," the report stated.
If the companies refuse to act, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should order an expanded recall, the groups insisted.
"Given the catastrophic results that flow from the combination of poorly performing tires on a rollover-prone vehicle, Ford and Firestone shoulder a heavy burden in refusing to recall all the Ford Explorer Wilderness tires," the report said.
Public Citizen and Safetyforum.com used data from NHTSA, BFS and Ford, as well as sworn testimony from Ford and BFS officials in various court cases, to build their thesis that all Explorer-type Wilderness tires—not just the recalled 15-inch tires from the BFS plant in Decatur, Ill.—should be recalled.
Both companies used unverified "statistical information" to support a narrow recall, according to the safety groups. "They refuse to evaluate warranty data...or to consider litigation information or consumer complaints in their evaluations," the report stated.
The Wilderness tires made in Wilson, N.C., and Joliette, Quebec, are identical in design, materials and manufacturing processes to the Decatur tires, according to the report.
"The failure mode...in the tires which causes the tread separations is virtually identical in every instance concerning both recalled and non-recalled tires," the report said.
Ford itself has said the non-recalled Wilderness tires are not "robust" and that the environmental conditions in Saudi Arabia—where Ford replaced Wilderness tires in 1999 for tread separations—are not unique as Bridgestone/Firestone claimed, but replicated in several parts of the U.S., according to the report.
The role of the Explorer itself in fatal tread separation accidents also requires further analysis, the report stated. "The unusually large number of Explorers that roll over following tread separation accidents cannot be ignored," it said.
Bridgestone/Firestone, like Ford, reiterated its position that the recall begun Aug. 9 "was based on hard data that clearly showed a significant performance difference for the recalled tires."
Public Safety and Safetyforum.com has always relied on NHTSA´s complaint database in making its computations regarding the recall, according to BFS.
"But as NHTSA has previously stated, the database currently contains duplicate and potentially inaccurate reports," the company said. "Throwing out the incomplete reports—which total more than 75 percent of the database—and then making an assessment on those that remain is an inherently flawed way to assess data."
Ford, in its statement, said that "if new data are uncovered that support the need for an expansion of the recall, we will comply." Its new tire warranty and early warning systems, it added, are "part of our commitment to our customers that Ford Motor Co.´s promise of safe, dependable transportation will never be compromised."
In late November 2000, Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John T. Lampe said the company had replaced 5.5 million tires and had enough tires on hand to replace the remaining 1 million.
Sanjay Govindjee, the University of California engineering professor BFS hired to study the root cause of the tire failures, has yet to release his final report.
In December, however, BFS released its own report. The tire maker blamed manufacturing problems at Decatur, problems with cracking in the belt wedge area, customer neglect and design problems with the Explorer as major causes of the tread separations.
Ford agrees with BFS on the tire problems, but denies the Explorer´s design played any role in the separations or the resulting accidents.