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The BBC's Kate Noble in New York
"The companies have been pointing fingers at each other"
 real 56k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Tyre scare prompts Explorer recall
The Ford Explorer 2002
The 2002 Explorer is meant to be safer
The Ford Motor Company is recalling 50,000 of its Explorer sports utility vehicles after fears that a production line fault has sliced into tyre treads.

The recall is the second in three months for the 2002 Explorer, which is meant to be a safer version of the vehicle at the centre of last year's Firestone tyre safety scandal.

2002 Explorer timeline
March: launch after months of delay
April: 56,000 owners contacted after tailgate window fault
May: 50,000 recalled after tyre tread problem
Ford launched the model in the US in March after several months of delay during which engineers scoured the vehicle for potential faults.

But in April, Ford was forced to contact 56,000 Explorer owners after it discovered the rear tailgate window could break when being shut.

Now - in a fresh embarrassment for the US car giant - an assembly line conveyor belt which was too narrow for the wider 2002 model is thought to have cut into tyre treads.

Relationship severed

The news comes as Firestone's parent company Bridgestone said it will no longer supply tyres to Ford, ending a nearly 100-year relationship that dates back to the founding of the two companies.

Relations broke down following reports that Ford is pressing for a wider recall of Firestone tyres, beyond the 6.5 million recalled last year.

The tyre maker said it believed Ford was trying to cover up problems with the Explorer by diverting attention on to Firestone.

No Firestone tyres are involved in the latest recall.

Explorers made at Ford's Louisville, Kentucky, plant, where the latest fault is believed to have occurred, are fitted with either Goodyear or Michelin tyres.

'No accidents'

A Ford spokesman said about 9% or 10% of the 50,000 Explorers made Louisville had cuts from 5 inches to 9 inches long and up to half an inch deep in the right tyre treads caused by the conveyor belt.


The new model is 2.5 inches wider, so it's too narrow for the new vehicle... It's a cut that doesn't pose any immediate kind of safety concern

Ford spokesman
The company plans to send a letter to all Explorer owners, the majority of whom live in the US, offering to check and replace damaged tyres free of charge.

A spokesman said: "It was the assembly line we had for the previous vehicle.

"The new model is 2.5 inches wider, so it's too narrow for the new vehicle... It's a cut that doesn't pose any immediate kind of safety concern."

Ford said it had received no reports of accidents or injuries involving the tyres.

It said it had fixed the problem at the Louisville plant after the cuts were discovered.

Explorers made at Ford's St. Louis plant were not affected by the problem.

Firestone debacle

Last August, Ford began recalling 6.5 million Firestone tyres, most on the Explorer, following reports of sudden blow-outs and tread loss.


We believe they (Ford) are attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tyres

John Lampe, Firestone chief executive
Federal officials are investigating 174 deaths and more than 700 injuries linked to the Firestone tyres.

On Monday, Firestone said its chief executive John Lampe informed Ford officials of its decision to sever relations with the car giant at a meeting at Firestone headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.

The tyre maker was upset by reports that Ford was considering asking Firestone to recall more tyres after alleged safety problems with other tyres installed on its vehicles, according to US press reports.

Ford admitted that the problems are not as severe as the ones that plagued the Explorer.

Nevertheless, the maker of Ford, Volvo and Jaguar cars says it is working closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to determine what steps it should take.

A 'sharing of information'

Mr Lampe said in a statement: "We have always said that in order to insure the safety of the driving public, it is crucial that there be a true sharing of information concerning the vehicle as well as the tyres.

"Ford simply is not willing to do that.

"We believe they are attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tyres."

Firestone said its analysis suggests that there is a "significant safety concern with a substantial segment of Ford Explorers".

Since Ford began allowing customers to choose the tyres for the new Explorers, only about 1% have chosen Firestone, which used to be fitted as standard equipment on the best-selling model.

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See also:

19 Apr 01 | Business
Ford profits fall 41%
23 Mar 01 | Business
Ford faces 7bn lawsuits
18 Oct 00 | Business
US tyre crisis hits Ford earnings
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