WASHINGTON-The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has started a preliminary evaluation of the General Ameri*550AS radial tire, size P235/70R16.
Continental Tire North America Inc. accused NHTSA of taking a ``politically motivated and patently unwarranted'' action against the tire, of which Conti has shipped more than 2.7 million since 1996. Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, said it no longer will use the Ameri*550AS to replace recalled Firestone Wilderness AT tires, but it will still use the tire as original equipment.
The Ameri*550AS was one of the tires that was the subject of a study by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. After Ford announced May 22 it planned to begin replacing 13 million more Firestone Wilderness AT tires, committee staffers collected tread separation claims data on the more than 60 tire models Ford selected as replacements for the Wilderness tires.
At a hearing June 19, the committee announced that 11 of the replacement tire models had claims rates higher than the benchmark rate of five per million Ford used to decide on a recall for the Wilderness AT tires. One tire-which the committee did not identify-had a claims rate of 124.4 per million.
Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., turned over the claims data to NHTSA for analysis. In the report it issued July 24, the agency said it would investigate only the General Ameri*550AS for possible defects out of the 11.
It was the Ameri*550 that had the 124-per-million claims rate, NHTSA noted in its report. ``While ppm claims rates are not determinative in themselves, this rate far exceeds any of the other tires on the committee's list,'' the agency said.
The claims against the Ameri*550AS included seven incidents which apparently led to injuries, including six which allegedly involved tread separations-for a total of 17 alleged injuries, NHTSA said. ``Most of the claims...involve tires manufactured in 1996-1998, many of which are still on the road,'' it added.
Of the remaining 10 tires, only four had any reports of crashes, injuries or fatalities, and almost all of those claims involved tires made in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Those tires are almost certainly off the road by now, NHTSA said.
Mr. Tauzin praised the agency's actions in a prepared statement. ``From all of the evidence now in the agency's possession-much of it provided by our committee-NHTSA is taking an important step today toward better safeguarding American drivers,'' he said. ``If this action results in saving one life or preventing even one accident, then we will have accomplished our mission.''
So far, Ford has used only about 4,300 of the Ameri*550AS tires out of 3 million replacement tires used for the Wilderness AT, said Sue Cischke, Ford vice president of environmental and safety engineering, in a prepared statement.
Ford uses the Ameri*550AS mostly as an OE tire for the Ford F-150 pickup truck, and will continue tthat fitment, Ms. Cischke said. ``Our testing indicates that the Ameri*550AS P235/70R16 meets our performance durability requirements,'' she said. ``Nevertheless, to alleviate any customer confusion, we have removed this tire from our approved tire replacement list until NHTSA completes its investigation.''
Conti, meanwhile, accused NHTSA of ``factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations'' in its statements about the Ameri*550AS and its decision to investigate the tire.
The agency erred in comparing the failure rates of the Ameri*550AS, which is used generally in off-road situations and construction sites, with those of passenger tires, Conti said in a press release. ``The Ameri*550 AS adjustment data must be viewed in the context of its application and the environment in which it is placed,'' the company said.
Some of NHTSA's statements about the tire were flat-out wrong, according to Conti. ``Our adjustment data for the Ameri*550AS has been excellent,'' it said. ``Out of the 2.7 million tires produced, there have been only three injury-related accidents, as indicated in NHTSA's own report, and one lawsuit settled long ago. There have been no fatalities.''
The 124-per-million claims rate for the Ameri*550AS is both inaccurate and irrelevant, Conti added. ``Other tires also had close to, or over, a 100-ppm claims rate, whereas NHTSA claims our rate `far exceeds that of any other tire on the committee's list.'''
NHTSA won't order a recall of the Ameri*550AS now because the tire was redesigned substantially in 1998. ``Since the introduction of these changes, the claims rate on them has been extremely low,'' Ms. Cischke said.