WASHINGTON (June 21, 2001)—Following is the prepared oral statement of Ford Motor Co. CEO Jacques Nasser which preceded his testimony June 19 at the Congressional hearing regarding Ford´s planned replacement of 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on Ford-made vehicles.
Chairman Stearns, Chairman Greenwood, Chairman Dingell and Chairman Tauzin, and members of the committee:
At the outset, I would like to express, on behalf of the women and men of Ford Motor Co., our sincerest sympathies to those families who have lost loved ones in these tragic accidents.
Today the committee is going to be battered with competing data and analysis, research and statistics, charts and graphs, experts and opinions, striving to settle the disagreements surrounding our decision to replace 13 million tires on Ford vehicles.
I am here to explain the reasons behind our decision and to answer any questions the committee may have about the actions we have taken to protect the safety of our customers.
Last year, (Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.) recalled about 6.5 million tires primarily on Ford vehicles. At that time, I pledged to this committee that Ford would implement an early warning system to help identify potential tire problems.
We promised our customers, and all of you, that we would use the lessons learned, combined with the aid of new technology, to keep our customers safe. And, Ford Motor Co. supported passage of the Tread Act, which encouraged the same vigilance.
Public awareness of tire safety has intensified since last year. And our expectations for tire performance have also changed. The bar has been raised.
Without question — detecting the possibility of a future tire defect carries much greater weight than before. We have moved from seeking remedies for bad tires to identifying and eliminating faulty tires before safety is compromised.
Last summer, field data and government data revealed highly elevated tread separation rates on Firestone ATX and certain Firestone Wilderness AT tires. Those tires were recalled even before we knew why the tires were failing.
Clearly — we needed to learn more to prevent this from happening again. So we started digging deeper.
We began the most intensive scientific investigation in Ford Motor Co.´s history. Hundreds of engineers and scientists looked at the tires. Then they looked at the tires together with the vehicle, and they also looked at the vehicle itself. Our lab tests and real world data, including Firestone´s own claims data, indicate that many of the remaining Firestone Wilderness AT tires will experience elevated failure rates as they age. The data convinced us to act now on behalf of the people who drive our vehicles.
Admittedly, we are dealing with early warning signals. But they are warnings that we take very seriously — we could not ignore them. We believe this will grow into a more serious problem, particularly as the tires age. In short, without this action, our customers´ safety would have been at risk.
So, on May 22, we announced our tire replacement program, and, thanks to the dedication of our dealers and employees and the cooperation of other tire manufacturers, we are moving ahead swiftly.
About 2 million tires are in the pipeline and about 1 million tires have been replaced.
I would like to thank the many dealers and thousands of UAW workers who are in Washington today to show support for their company and our actions. It means a great deal to us.
Now, let me talk about the Explorer.
And, let´s get right to the heart of the issue. The Ford Explorer is, and always has been, a safe vehicle. The criticism from (Bridgestone/Firestone) challenging the Explorer´s safety is not based on fact. Real world data, compiled by the Department of Transportation, shows that the Explorer is among the safest SUVs on the market.
Let´s go through the data — the Explorer is 27 percent safer than passenger cars. The Explorer is safer than comparable SUVs in all crash types-— front, side, rear and rollover crashes. The Explorer is involved in 19 percent fewer accidents of all types than the typical SUV. Explorer has scored 4 or 5 stars in government frontal and side crash tests. Explorer received the second-highest rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in its frontal offset crash tests. Just one SUV got a better rating, while four received lower ratings. All in all, no other SUV has such a strong combination of field and testing performance. Those are the facts, not the headlines.
In addition, we have closely examined the relationship between SUVs and tires. We performed hundreds of tests with Explorer and competitive SUVs. This exhaustive analysis filled millions of pages of information which we have shared with NHTSA, with (Bridgestone/Firestone), and with this committee. This data shows that the Explorer is a superbly designed vehicle and is a safety leader.
Last month, Chairman Tauzin asked NHTSA to review the performance of the Explorer compared to other SUVs. We agree that there is much misinformation and some confusion about the safety of these vehicles. So we welcome and encourage NHTSA´s review and analysis of all the data on Explorer and peer vehicles and we will fully cooperate in this effort. We are confident of the outcome because the Explorer has 10 years of real world safety data that doesn´t mislead.
And there´s more — the clearest demonstration yet that this is a problem with the tires and not with the vehicle is the real world performance of two groups of Explorers totaling more than 1 million vehicles manufactured over a three-year period.
Everything about these two groups of Explorers was exactly the same, except that half the Explorers used Goodyear tires and the other half used Firestone tires. We gave both tire manufacturers the same performance criteria and both sets of tires had the same recommended tire pressure.
This is the only real-world comparison that is truly apples-to-apples.
The results are clear: There were 1,183 tread separations on the Firestone tires. There were two on the Goodyear tires. The only variable was the tire. Everything else was the same—same drivers, same vehicles, same parts of the country, same roads, same driving conditions, same loads, same tire pressure.
So it bears repeating: This is a tire issue and only a tire issue.
I want to make it clear that we get no satisfaction from this dispute with(Bridgestone/Firestone). But we cannot and will not, let them decide when or how Ford Motor Co. will act to protect our customers´ safety. Our customers count on Ford to place their safety and interests above all else - and we do.
One year ago, I came before this committee to discuss the recall of Firestone tires. You asked what we could do to assure the public that this kind of safety calamity would not happen again. I pledged to you and to our customers that we would be vigilant in our efforts to identify the problems early and fix them.
I am proud of Ford Motor Co.´s strong commitment to safety. I am grateful for the Secretary´s recognition of that commitment.
I said last year, this is a tire problem—not a vehicle problem. The government confirmed last year that this is a tire problem.
And though we are back before your committee again this year to discuss an even larger recall, this remains a tire problem. Our goal is to make sure that it does not become a safety problem for the public.
Thank you for your attention and I will be pleased to answer your questions.