Ford has reacted quickly to the NHTSA defect investigation into the General Ameri* 550 by dropping the brand from its replacement campaign. The General Ameri*550 was one of the brands being used to replace the recalled Firestone Wilderness ATs which have been deemed unsafe by Ford. However, Ford stated that the tyre was “performing well” on the F-series pick up, where it is fitted as original equipment.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that it is to open a defect investigation into the General Ameri*550 AS P235/70R16. The tyre is manufactured by Continental Tire North America and has been used as a replacement tyre for Firestone Wilderness ATs on Ford Explorers. The investigation follows initial research results show tread separation claims running at 124 per million. This exceeds the rates for any of the other tyres on the NHTSA list of tyres to be examined. The claims against the General Ameri*550 include seven crashes in which the tyre separation allegedly led to injuries. The NHTSA states that the defect investigation does not mean that it has determined these tyres to be unsafe, or to have a safety related defect. Simply that it warrants further investigation.
Bridgestone President Shigeo Watanabe has said that the company is prepared to sue US regulator National Highway Traffic Safety Administration if that organisation were to order another recall of Firestone tyres. Last week the NHTSA asked Bridgestone/Firestone to recall more tyres, but the company refused, threatening court action if the NHTSA declared the tyres defective. At a news conference in Tokyo, Shigeo Watanabe again said that the investigation should focus on both tyres and vehicles. Fears over the possibility of protracted legal action were reflected in a fall of over 15 per cent in Bridgestone’s share price.
The US Government has asked Firestone to recall another 3.5 million tyres. Shigeo Watanabe, president of Bridgestone stressed that this was not a recall, but a replacement programme as Bridgestone Firestone had not admitted any defects. The tyres being exchanged are P235/75R15 and P255/70R16 fitted to Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs up to 1998.
In the USA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency has reported another 29 deaths linked to alleged failures of Firestone tyres. This raises the total of fatalities under investigation to 148 and injuries to 525. Five of the 29 deaths involved Firestone tyres not included in the voluntary recall.
In January, two men pleaded guilty at Worcester Magistrates court to charges relating to the illegal dumping of scrap tyres in a case brought by the Environment Agency. The two men were fined a total of £12,250 and ordered to pay costs of £5,500.
Ford has issued a comprehensive report in which it places the blame for the fatal crashes involving the Ford Explorer fairly and squarely on the Firestone tyres and not the vehicle. Ford contends that the Explorer is no more prone to rollovers or tyre failures than any other medium-sized SUV. Bridgestone/Firestone disagrees, saying that tyre and vehicle makes up an integrated system and any investigation has to take the vehicle into consideration. It also criticised comparative temperature tests on Firestone and competitors’ tyres, saying that they measured only external temperatures and took no account of internal running temperatures.
Reports in the Straits Times claim that a 20 day detention order has been issued against Gajah Tunggal President Sjamsul Nursalim on money-swindling charges. There has been speculation that the move, which is one of a number against businessmen, might be politically motivated. A separate report asks whether the group will have to sell off assets to repay debts.
More concern for Bridgestone; reports in Business Week say that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received around a dozen complaints concerning sidewall bulges on Bridgestone Potenza RE040 tyres, fitted to Audi S4 sedans. An Audi spokesman said there was no cause for concern and the NHTSA said that there was no safety investigation planned.
Cosmetic cracks found in the sidewalls of Bridgestone/Firestone tyres fitted to Toyota Tundra and Sequoia trucks have resulted in more attention for the troubled tyre giant. Cracks were discovered by workers at Toyota’s Indiana plant and 2001 model Sequoias not yet delivered to dealers have been fitted with Dunlop tyres as a precautionary measure. Toyota plan to resume using Firestones shortly, and Firestone has given assurances that the cosmetic cracks do not in any way affect safety. The tyres were manufactured at their Wilson North Carolina plant, where Steeltex brand tyres, under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are also manufactured. However, Spokesperson for Firestone , Christine Karbiwiak said, “There is no reason to believe there is a defect at the Wilson plant”.
Goodyear announced that the firm had received notice from the National Highways Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to a preliminary investigation into its Load Range E light commercial tyres. This follows on from a number of complaints and issues raised as a consequence of a New Jersey court case being defended by Goodyear. The lawyers for the plaintiff claim that Goodyear has been aware of a problem with the Load Range E and has been conducting a “silent recall”, both allegations being vehemently denied by the tyre company.