DEARBORN, Mich.-Ford Motor Co. now has 1.25 million tires on hand to replace Firestone Wilderness AT tires, or a little under 10 percent of the total it needs, Ford officials told financial analysts in a June 14 teleconference.
Ford also elaborated on the data it used in deciding to recall the 13 million Wilderness tires for the benefit of the analysts. Reporters and investors were allowed to listen in, but only analysts could ask questions.
Ford expects to complete the recall by year's end, according to Richard Parry-Jones, Ford group vice president for Global Product Development and Quality. The biggest problem in doing so, however, is that Goodyear, Continental Tire North America Inc. and Michelin North America Inc. normally don't make so many tires of this type.
``The lead-time on making tire molds will be the gateway on the speed at which we complete the recall,'' Mr. Parry-Jones said.
In three crucial areas-temperature, wedge dimension and peel strength-Wilderness tires were markedly inferior in field and comparative data to Goodyear Wrangler tires that also were supplied as original equipment to the Ford Explorer in 1995-97, Mr. Parry-Jones claimed.
There also were wide variations in performance between the Wilderness tires themselves, depending on where they were made, he said. Ford's information showed that tires from the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. facility in Decatur, Ill., performed worst, but tires from BFS plants in Joliette, Quebec, and Wilson, N.C., also had elevated failure rates. Only tires from the BFS plant in Aiken, S.C., performed comparably to the Goodyear tires, Mr. Parry-Jones said.
Earlier that day, the Wall Street Journal quoted Ford as saying that Wilderness tires had 167 instances of tread separation on non-Ford vehicles. This was a direct challenge to Bridgestone/Firestone's claim that the design of the Explorer is partly to blame in the tread separation accidents that killed 174 people.
Sue Cischke, Ford vice president of Environmental and Safety Engineering, said in the question-answer session that the tires were all aftermarket tires, and that 66 of the 167 were on sport-utility vehicles. Ms. Cischke said Ford couldn't extrapolate a failure rate for those tires, because it didn't know how many total went to the aftermarket.
BFS disputes Ford's claim in this area, saying the auto maker misinterpreted data supplied by Firestone.
Also in the question-answer period, Ford addressed the Firestone-funded study by Dennis Guenther, an Ohio State University engineering professor and leading expert witness for the auto industry in product liability trials. In his study, Mr. Guenther said certain Ford Explorers suffer from oversteer, which causes drivers to lose control in the case of tread separations on left rear tires.
Mr. Parry-Jones said Mr. Guenther's conclusion was ``a very interesting claim, perhaps premature based on very little testing.'' Ford's own testing shows the Explorer's level of understeer to be ``appropriate'' for an SUV, and ``adds to the Explorer's excellent safety record.''