Bridgestone/Firestone's recent decision to recall nearly 300,000 Load Range D Firestone Steeltex light truck tires was based largely on evidence the tires were involved in nine accidents resulting in five fatalities and 20 accidents.
That conclusion was first drawn by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in early February, after reviewing early warning data submitted by BFS and information from other sources, according to a NHTSA spokesman, who said the agency contacted BFS Feb. 13 with its concerns.
Bridgestone/Firestone, meanwhile, said it had come to the same conclusions about the tires based on its own internal audit of tire performance data and would have replaced the tires even if NHTSA hadn't contacted the company, a BFS spokesman told Tire Business.
``About the time that they called us, we were getting ready to call them,'' he said.
According to both NHTSA and BFS, the problems were limited to the Load Range D tires-which BFS no longer makes-and there is no evidence of any defect trends in any of the 102 other Steeltex models.
``The Steeltex line, as a whole, appears to be reasonably robust,'' a NHTSA spokesman said.
The agency uncovered the evidence about the tires-made in BFS's plant in Joliette, Quebec, between March 1999 and December 2002-including the accident reports, during a normal review of early warning data submitted by BFS and information from other sources, according to the spokesman. It contacted the tire maker Feb. 13, and on Feb. 17 company officials met in Washington with NHTSA personnel.
BFS President, Chairman and CEO John Lampe followed up Feb. 23 with a telephone call to NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, the agency spokesman said. During that call, it was agreed the tires should be replaced. NHTSA reported complaints of both tread separation and sidewall failure with the Joliette tires but added that these were small in number. ``We have a total of 18 complaints on these tires-eight in 2000, seven in 2001, two in 2002 and one in 2003,'' the agency spokesman said.
BFS hasn't identified any specific problems with the Joliette tires but will continue to investigate, the company spokesman said. ``The good news is that this won't affect customers,'' he added. ``They'll all get free replacement tires.''
The Joliette tires were mostly original equipment on Ford Excursions between model years 2000 and 2003, BFS said. To ensure adequate supplies of replacement tires, the company will use not only Steeltex tires, but also Bridgestone, Pirelli and BFGoodrich models as replacements.
Ford Motor Co. and BFS are working together to expedite the replacement program, according to a BFS press release. Estimated cost of the program is $30 million.
A BFS spokesman said the company is picking up 100 percent of the tab for the replacement program, though Ford is cooperating in getting the word out to Excursion owners as well as allowing the use of Ford dealerships as points of replacement for the tires.