Ford Motor Co. used an auto salvage subsidiary to sell damaged vehicles and parts, including defective Firestone tires, a group of 75 former employees allege in a lawsuit.
Ford, however, insists such sales never occurred. ``These allegations are just to generate media interest,'' a company spokeswoman said.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by ex-workers of Environ Inc., Dearborn, Mich., which Ford closed in the fall of 2000.
Environ salvaged experimental and prototype vehicles for sale as used cars. According to the suit, company executives knowingly sold faulty vehicles or vehicle parts, including brake parts, and threatened workers with dismissal unless they went along.
Among the defective vehicles sold, the suit stated, were 2,000 flood-damaged Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers equipped with Firestone Wilderness AT tires. These tires were later part of the 6.5 million-tire recall Bridgestone/Firestone instigated in August 2000.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) subsequently linked tread separations in the recalled tires to 271 highway deaths.
The Ford spokeswoman said the lawsuit came from disgruntled ex-employees unhappy with their severance packages. She couldn't speak about the Firestone tires-adding that if the charge were true, the tires would have been sold before the recall was announced-but said it was false to allege that Environ knowingly sold defective vehicles or parts.
``The company rebuilt and restored test vehicles to be sold as used cars and trucks, but they met all government standards,'' she said. Environ, she added, was closed because it lost 60 percent of its business in one year.
``There were competitor companies out there that may have provided better or more cost-effective service,'' she said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be located for comment.