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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Firestone ordered to recall more tyres
Ford Explorer
Ford Explorer: Safety concerns prompted a recall
Federal Officials have reportedly told Firestone that the company needs to recall an additional four million tyres for safety problems.

Should Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp, prove unwilling, it could face a forced recall, according to a report in the USA Today newspaper on Friday.

The tit-for-tat fight that has developed between Ford and Firestone over the responsibility for hundreds of deaths related to rollover accidents has now involved the federal government.

We strongly disagree with any suggestion that a recall action might be warranted

John Lampe

Following news on Thursday that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) might require additional recalls of Firestone Wilderness AT tyres, the embattled tyre maker insisted that its tyres were safe.

"We appreciate NHTSA's diligence on this issue," said John Lampe, chief executive and president of Bridgestone/Firestone.

"But we strongly disagree with any suggestion that a recall action might be warranted and believe any such action could have potentially serious consequences for the driving public and the entire tyre industry," Mr Lampe said.

Additional recall

The additional recall involves tyres made at plants other than the Decatur, Illinois, manufacturing facility that was suspected of producing all of the faulty tyres.

A freshly shod Ford Explorer with Goodyear tires
Ford is using Goodyear and other suppliers to replace defective Firestone tyres

At issue are four million more Firestone Wilderness AT tyres made in Joliet, Illinois, and Wilson, North Carolina, as well as Decatur, USA Today reported.

In a statement, Firestone said further action by the NHTSA was unnecessary, adding that it intended to prove its tyres were safe even if it meant going to court.

Firestone has consistently defended the safety of its Wilderness AT tyres even after issuing a recall of the tyres last summer.

On Wednesday the NHTSA told Firestone it should recall millions more tyres for safety defects and had given the embattled company until Friday to respond.

Firestone, manufacturer of 6.5 million tyres recalled last year, acknowledged that it had met with NHTSA officials.

It would not say, however, whether the agency had made a decision on further recalls.

Defective Firestone Wilderness AT tyres installed on previous generation Ford Explorers are believed to be the cause of 203 deaths and over 700 injuries as the result of crashes involving rollovers of Ford Explorer vehicles.

Massive recall

Ford last month began its own recall campaign to replace 13 million Firestone tyres, some of which had previously been recalled by Firestone.

The move caused Firestone to sever its 100-year-old relationship with the car maker and frustrated consumers who had already replaced recalled tyres.

Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John Lampe
Bridgestone/Firestone's John Lampe believes the company's tyres are safe

In addition, US lawmakers have criticised the world's No. 2 auto maker.

In hearings last month, House members asked Ford chief executive Jacques Nasser whether the recall was not more of a public relations scheme than a public safety issue.

Just prior to June's hearings, Mr Lampe said the tyres in question were sound. "Our tyres are safe, and we're going to prove it," he said.

Financial toll

Aside from severed relations between the two companies, the recall has taken a financial toll as well.

In announcing its quarterly profits on Wednesday, Ford said it lost $551m (389m) under the weight of its $3bn (2.11bn) recall of Firestone tyres, as well as increased competition for its Explorer and other models.

For its part, Bridgestone, whose shares are traded on the Nikkei stock exchange in Tokyo, said last month it expects to post a yearly loss of 130bn yen ($1.05bn, 744m), compared with an earlier forecast of 58bn yen profit ($470m, 330m).

Also in June, Firestone announced it would close its Decatur plant where the bulk of the 6.5 million tyres it recalled last August were produced.

Firestone has admitted that tyres manufactured at its plant have had problems.

But the company has denied that tyres manufactured at its other plants suffer from the same tread-separation glitch and instead blamed the design of the Ford Explorer and Ford's demand for lowered tyre pressures.

The BBC's Bob Berry
"This could be financially devastating for Firestone"
See also:

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