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Ford Recalls Millions of Firestone Tires
Number two automaker cites safety as reason behind on of the largest voluntary recalls in automotive history
By Peter D. duPre
Ford Motor Company launched one of the largest automotive recalls in history May 22 with the announcement it will replace all Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles.
Jacques Nasser, Ford president and CEO, said the move was designed to ensure the safety of Ford customers and bolster the company's position as a leader in customer satisfaction.
"We feel it is our responsibility to act immediately," said Nasser. "Our customers look to us to ensure the safety of our vehicle. That is why Ford will replace the AT tires on all our vehicles. The cost to Ford will be more than $2 billion after taxes, but the greater concern is the inconvenience to, and the safety of, our customers."
Ford issued a recall last year on the Firestone Wilderness tires, replacing almost 6 million tires on Ford vehicles, mainly Explorer. This newest recall includes all the non-recall replacement tires from last summer and all Wilderness tires currently installed on current and new model Ford vehicles.
"Some of the tires we are replacing do not have a substantial risk of failure," Nasser continued, "but rather than segregate the tires, we are offering to replace all the Wilderness AT tires to eliminate any doubt by our customers about the safety of their tires."
According to John Rintamaki, Ford group vice president and chief of staff, the decision to voluntarily recall the tires was made after an intensive study of the tires.
"The process that brought us to this decision was intensive," said Rintamaki. "It is important to understand that the decision (to recall the tires) was made by studying the field data, information supplied by NHTSA, and by completing our own technical analysis."
"We have been analyzing the field data over the past several days and it shows that the failure rate is increasing. The data showed that even the non-recalled Wilderness AT tires will continue to have a failure rate that is higher than acceptable," Rintamaki continued.
What is the acceptable failure rate? According to Rintamaki, the only standard of comparison for tire failures is the 2.9 million Goodyear installed on Ford Explorers since last year (as a replacement for the recalled Firestone tires). He said that the company installed an equal number of Goodyear replacement tires and Firestone replacement tires and pointed out that of the 2.9 million Goodyear tires, there were just two tread separations. Out of the 2.9 million Firestone replacement tires, the company noted 1,183 tread separations.
Rintamaki said that Ford's replacement plan will concentrate first on the oldest Firestone tires installed on its vehicles as the company feels that they have highest chance of failure.
"Tires less than three years old have a lower failure rate," said Rintamaki, "so we will replace older tires first, then the newer ones. But all Wilderness tires installed on Ford vehicles will be replaced."
Rintamaki also said that the tires will be replaced at Ford dealerships and that the company will reimburse Ford customers for any replacement Firestone tires purchased from other sources up to $130 for each tire. He also said that the company was idling three truck plants in the U.S. while the changeover to replacement tires was being made.
The announcement of the recall came hard on the heels of an announcement by Bridgestone/Firestone, manufacturer of the Wilderness AT tires, that they were severing the business relationship with the automaker. Firestone has been supplying tires for Ford vehicles for 95 years and the relationship between the two companies has historically been a warm one with deep ties. In fact, Ford Motor Company Chairman, William Clay Ford, Jr., great grandfathers were Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.
The tire manufacturer said they were concluding the business relationship because they felt there was no longer trust between the two companies.
"Business relationships, like personal ones, are built upon trust and mutual respect," said John T. Lampe, Chairman, CEO and President of Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. "We have come to the conclusion that we can no longer supply tires to Ford since the basic foundation of our relationship has been seriously eroded."
In his remarks, Lampe was referring to the fact that his company's technical analysis of the problem suggests that there is a significant safety concern with some Ford vehicles, particularly the Explorer. He said that they had voiced their concerns to Ford, but that the automaker is "...attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires."
Ford, for its part, denies this. They point out that since the Explorer was introduced some 10 years ago, it has consistently been ranked as one of the safest vehicles in its class and is 17 percent safer than the average SUV in its class during a collision.