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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 19:56 GMT 20:56 UK
Ford defends its safety record
Ford Explorer on test track
Ford's Explorer model was the focus of a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
By BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter, David Schepp

Ford Motor Company chief executive Jacques Nasser has testified before the US Congress, insisting that his company's Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle (SUV) is safe.

"Real-world data shows that the Explorer is among the safest SUVs on the market," Mr Nasser said.

He also said that as of Tuesday, one million tyres already had been replaced, following the company's announcement on 22 May to replace 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tyres installed on Explorer vehicles.

Ford Explorer with Goodyear tyres
Ford's replacement plan has called for installing Goodyear tyres on its Explorer models

The hearings begin just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) updated the number of people killed in accidents involving Explorers with Firestone tyres to 203 from 174.

"We feel very sad about those 203 people," Mr Nasser told lawmakers in testimony before a House of Representatives subcommittee. "That's why we're moving to replace 13 million tyres. We don't want to be sitting there talking about further deaths and accidents."

Separately, the NHTSA said in a message delivered to Congress that it is considering investigating the safety of the Ford Explorer itself, as well as an expanded Firestone tyre recall.

Congressional scrutiny

Members of the subcommittee criticised Ford for replacing some of the 13 million Firestone tyres with ones from other manufacturers that have an equal or greater failure rate than the Firestone Wilderness AT tyres they are replacing.

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman W J "Billy" Tauzin questioned whether the replacement programme was wise given that the failure rate of the replacement tyres - at 124 per million - far exceeded Ford's own benchmark of five failures per 1 million tyres.

Real-world data shows that the Explorer is among the safest SUVs on the market

Ford chief executive Jacques Nasser
"Are we going to be replacing worse tyres for the tyres that come off these cars?" said Mr Taubin, adding that congressional investigators are scrutinising the tyre-replacement plan and will submit their findings to auto-safety regulators.

Mr Tauzin's critical remarks were not reserved for Ford alone.

He criticised Bridgestone/Firestone, the parent of Firestone, for attempting to shift the blame of tyre failures onto Ford.

He added that the NHTSA should investigate both Ford and Firestone.

For his part, Mr Nasser said he would "welcome and encourage" a review of the data related to the Ford Explorer as part of an investigation into the safety of the vehicle and Firestone Wilderness AT tyres.

"We are confident of the outcome because the Explorer has 10 years of real world safety data that doesn't mislead," Mr. Nasser said.

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See also:

17 Jun 01 | Business
Firestone faces $1bn lawsuit
22 May 01 | Business
Ford confirms $2.1bn tyre recall
01 Jun 01 | Business
Firestone calls for Ford probe
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