Goodyear has decided to recall 200,000 Load Range E tires, putting an end to a government investigation but sparking an attack by plaintiff attorneys.
Announcing the action Feb. 1, the tire maker said it will replace tires sized LT245/75R16 used on 15-passenger vans and ambulances between model years 1996 and 2000. The action could cost the company $20 million to $30 million, based on the retail price of the tires and depending on the number of tires still on the road.
Goodyear said the action is intended to gain consumer confidence. But the plaintiff attorneys Web site, Safetyforum.com, said 21 million defective tires could still be in service.
So far, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has traced 18 deaths and 158 injuries on U.S. roads because of tread separations with the tires. Safetyforum also condemned the agency for planning to end its investigation.
A NHTSA spokesman said the agency could not disagree more with the attorneys' charges.
``The program Goodyear is planning to do will answer our predominant safety concerns,'' he said.
NHTSA plans to continue to monitor the situation with Load Range E tires.
A Goodyear spokesman said the company has completed details of the replacement program with General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler A.G., as well as NHTSA.
Goodyear makes more than 250 different sizes, types and brands of Load Range E tires, of which 51 brands, sub-brands and private brands will be subject to replacement, the spokesman said.
NHTSA began a preliminary evaluation of the Load Range E tires Nov. 21, 2000, because of 37 reports it received of alleged tread separations that caused an estimated 15 deaths and 125 injuries.
Trial lawyers were quick to blast the program as inadequate.
``This limited recall...only underscores the need for Goodyear to stop trying to hide behind the facts about its Load Range E tires,'' said Rebecca Epstein, staff attorney for Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ).
She said there are 31 lawsuits against Goodyear, and in one a judge gave the firm until Feb. 18 to turn over a limited number of sealed documents for the TLPJ to study. The group has until March 18 to read the documents and respond to the court.
``We want the whole picture,'' Ms. Epstein said.
Lee Jones, executive director of Safetyforum.com, was critical of Goodyear in a news release that appeared Feb. 6 on his organization's Web site.
``By denying that a problem exists, they are soft-pedaling the issue, perhaps in anticipation that it will go away,'' Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Jones accused NHTSA of acting prematurely in planning to end the investigation.
``This...replacement program is not an acceptable substitute for a formal safety recall of all of the defective Goodyear Load Range E tires,'' he said.
Goodyear said the reaction from the safety groups was not unexpected, but also not warranted.
``If they would look at the facts and leave their emotions out of it, they would see our actions are appropriate,'' the Goodyear spokesman said. ``We've been very forthcoming to NHTSA, and the fact that more fatalities have not surfaced demonstrates both the quality of the tires and the completeness of our data.''