WASHINGTON (Oct. 3, 2001)—The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it can't make a decision about whether to investigate possible defects in the Ford Explorer without further data from Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
The tire maker, however, said its research into the Explorer is “ongoing,” and that it will pass the data on to NHTSA as soon as it is ready.
In May, Nashville-based BFS submitted to the safety agency a study it commissioned from Dennis Guenther, an engineering professor at Ohio State University whose work indicated that the Explorer is prone to oversteer, in turn making it more likely to roll over after a tread separation.
According to agency rules, NHTSA has 120 days to make a decision on a petition for a defect investigation. At the end of September, however, agency officials told Tire Business' sister publication, Automotive News, Reuters and other sources that it didn't think the clock had even begun running on the Explorer, because Bridgestone/Firestone had not turned in a complete petition.
When asked what information NHTSA lacked from Firestone, an agency spokesman said: “You should ask Firestone that. Firestone indicated to us that some additional testing and support data would be forthcoming. I understand they haven't” (provided it).
NHTSA is proceeding with its own evaluation of the Explorer, but until it has more data from BFS, agency investigators can't act on the tire maker's findings, the spokesman added.
“Guenther's work will continue, and as data become available, we will share them with NHTSA,” a Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said in response. “He continues to do research and testing, and his work is ongoing.” The spokeswoman said she didn't know when Mr. Guenther would issue his further findings.
Bridgestone/Firestone, meanwhile, is playing its own waiting game with NHTSA, which told the tire maker July 19 that it would seek an enhanced recall of Firestone tires, over and above the 6.5 million ATX and Wilderness AT tires recalled last year.
To date, however, the agency has given no further details of what it wants, although its final decision could come at any time. NHTSA officials are traditionally close-mouthed over such matters. When asked if Bridgestone/Firestone had any idea when NHTSA's decision would come down, the spokeswoman for the tire maker said, “You'd have to ask NHTSA about that.”
So far NHTSA has attributed 203 deaths on U.S. highways to Ford Explorers and other Ford vehicles fitted with Firestone tires as original equipment. Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone have each tried to blame the other for the accidents, which have resulted in hundreds of lawsuits against both firms. In May, Bridgestone/Firestone announced that it had dropped Ford as an OE customer.