CHARLOTTE, N.C.-Following Congressional hearings on the role of Firestone Wilderness AT light truck tires in rollover accidents involving the Ford Explorer and other vehicles, Continental Tire North America (CTNA) Inc. felt obliged to defend the General Ameri 550AS radial tire from a disparaging news report that it had an unusually high tread separation claims rate.
The Ameri 550AS-one of the replacement tires Ford Motor Co. is using for the Firestone Wilderness AT-apparently is one of 11 of those the House Energy and Commerce Committee identified as having an elevated claims rate. A committee spokesman, however, refused to confirm this.
Ford recalled 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires May 22. One of the tire models the auto maker certified for replacement of the Wilderness AT is the 16-inch General Ameri 550AS, which is used as original equipment on the Ford F150 pickup truck.
The week of June 19, the House Energy and Commerce Committee revealed data that showed 11 of Ford's replacement tire models had tread separation claims rates higher than five per million-the benchmark figure Ford used to justify the recall against Firestone.
One tire model was said to have a claims rate of 124.4 per million, but the committee refused to identify the model because it came from the tire maker's proprietary information. On June 29, the Washington Post ran an article identifying the General Ameri 550AS as that model.
A committee spokesman declined to confirm or deny that report. ``That didn't come from us,'' he said. Meanwhile, CTNA said the entire issue had become overblown.
``We want to emphasize that parts-per-million is only one measure of a tire's quality, and a minor one,'' a Conti spokeswoman said. ``It is really important to emphasize this is not the crucial number everyone should be looking at.''
Conti ``could never confirm that number'' regarding claims rates with the committee, the spokeswoman added. ``Everyone is looking at that data differently,'' she said. ``They're not comparing apples with apples.''
Many sources-including other tire makers and the committee itself-have also warned against taking too much stock in the claims data alone. The strongest warning came from Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, who said in a press release that the tire industry has no definition of property damage claims or accepted average for an appropriate claims rate on tires.
``Property damage claims and the associated claims rate have not, do not, and can not define the safety of a tire,'' Mr. Shea said. ``U.S. tire makers actually use a number of indicators...when determining if a process of post-manufacturing study, testing, analysis and evaluation of a tire is warranted.''