Kwame Holman reports from Congressional hearings on the Ford-Firestone tire recall.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reporter: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration yesterday raised to 203 the number of vehicle crash deaths linked to Firestone tires. Many of them occurred in rollovers of Ford Explorers.
REP. EDWARD MARKEY: We know that there is a toxic cocktail that is created when Ford Explorers and Firestone tires are put together.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, the House Commerce Committee invited the heads of Ford and Firestone to give their latest views on the causes of the accidents and solutions. The two companies have been engaged in a bitter, nearly year-long public fight over which of them is to blame for the deaths. Jacques Nasser is CEO of Ford.
JACQUES NASSER: This is a tire issue and only a tire issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Lampe is CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone.
JOHN LAMPE: There is something wrong with the Ford explorer. The testing and accident data we have submitted prove it.
KWAME HOLMAN: The relationship between the auto and tire makers began to dissolve last summer. A steady increase in the number of deadly accidents prompted Firestone to recall six and a half million of its Wilderness AT tires issued as original equipment on Ford explorers. Then last month, Ford announced it would recall an additional 13 and a half million Firestone tires not included in the original recall.
JACQUES NASSER: We're doing it in the interest of our customers' safety and peace of mind. It's as simple as that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Ford's Nasser said his company's own tests led to the recall decision.
JACQUES NASSER: Probably the clearest demonstration yet that this is a problem with the tires and not with the vehicle. And this is the real-world performance of two groups of Explorers, totaling more than one million vehicles manufactured over a three-year period. Everything about these two groups of Explorers was exactly the same, except that half the explorers used Goodyear tires and the other half used Firestone tires. We gave both tire manufacturers the same performance criteria, and both sets of tires had the same recommended tire pressure. This is the only real-world comparison that is truly apples to apples, and the results are very clear. There were 1,183 tread separations on the Firestone tires. There were two on the Goodyear tires. The only variable was the tire. Everything else was the same.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin questioned the broad scope of Ford's tire recall.
REP. W.J. "BILLY" TAUZIN: Is it true that you've recalled some lines of wilderness AT tires that Ford never even tested?
JACQUES NASSER: I don't know whether that's true, but I wouldn't doubt it because we looked at a broad range of tires. As I said in the end, it became a question of what's right for our customers?
REP. W.J. "BILLY" TAUZIN: Here's our problem. You see, we've identified at least four of the lines that you've recalled-- one a Wilderness Tire P2-15, 72-R-15 that is not only used on the Ranger, but on the Isuzu Rodeo and on a Mazda vehicle. And you've not... According to our information, you've not run any tests on those tires, on that line of Wilderness tires.
JACQUES NASSER: We didn't test every single tire ever made in the history of this world. We didn't. We had to stop. It was a question of, do we keep testing? Do we keep studying? Do we keep reviewing? Or do we go out there and act in the interest of our customers? Yes, we're guilty. We decided to go out there and be nimble and act for our customers.
REP. W.J. "BILLY" TAUZIN: You see, the problem... Mr. Nasser, I have a limited amount of time. The problem we have, sir, in understanding this recall and shedding light on it is that tire lines are being recalled and your company has provided our committee with no data indicating the basis upon which these particular lines are being recalled.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tauzin also told Nasser the committee recently received data showing some of the tires Ford chose as replacements had a worse performance record than the original Firestone tires.
REP. W.J. "BILLY" TAUZIN: One of those tires, one of the replacement tires, has a claims rate of 124 per million, way in excess of the five per million that you indicated to us was the benchmark for this recall. How can you justify replacing a tire that fails 15 out of a million with one that has a claims rate failure of one out 124 out of a million, and are we going to be in another cycle of recall later on?
JACQUES NASSER: Well, we can't justify it. If the facts are right, the first time we heard about it is when we read about it in the newspaper this morning. Every tire that we put on the replacement list was looked at and reviewed by the NTSA. We wanted to see whether there was any indication of that data. There is one tire....
REP. W.J. "BILLY" TAUZIN: Let me stop you there. NTSA will testify they did not approve the replacement tire list that you submitted.
JACQUES NASSER: I think it's a question of determining is the data that you have that no one else seems to have, if you have it and it's accurate we'll act on it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Firestone's John Lampe followed Nasser to the witness table with test data directly contradicting Ford's.
JOHN LAMPE: In every test the Wilderness AT tires performed within industry norms, oftentimes outperforming our rivals. Our testing confirms what we've been saying all along: Our tires are safe, we have the tests, we have the real-world data to prove it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lampe insisted Firestone's tests were more reliable than Ford's.
JOHN LAMPE: Ford's testing of tires and our tires was at best unscientific and at worst misleading. Ford took new Goodyear tires and compared them with old Firestone tires, some of which were nine years old.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lampe suggested the committee look closer at the design of the Ford Explorer.
JOHN LAMPE: Mr. Chairman, these are the facts. The loss of a tread or air in a tire shouldn't cause a driver to lose control of his vehicle. The driver should be able to pull over, not roll over. The Florida traffic crash database shows that for the '94 through 2000 model year, vehicles registered in Florida, the Explorer rolls over twice as much as all other SUV's in single-vehicle, non-tire- related accidents.
KWAME HOLMAN: Five hours into the hearing, Chairman Tauzin expressed frustration about the competing test results brought forth by Ford and Firestone.
REP. W.J. "BILLY" TAUZIN: What you're saying is somebody who doesn't work for Ford, who was not hired by Ford, someone who does not work for Firestone or is not hired by Firestone, somebody ought to replicate this test.
JOHN LAMPE: I think it would be a very, very good idea.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon, a Transportation Department official said the agency's traffic safety arm Firestone AT tires within a week and issue a report within a month. The agency also is considering Firestone's request to investigate the performance of the Ford Explorer.