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Ford responds to BFS attack on Explorer

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Ford Motor Co. was adamant in its response to Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s request to open an investigation into the safety of certain models of the Ford Explorer. Bridgestone/Firestone approached the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with its proposal last week.

"We do not think there is any basis to support a separate investigation," said Ken Zino, executive director of product development and trustmark communications for Ford. "We

have shared extensive testing information with NHTSA of various models of Ford

Explorer, as well as numerous competitive models.

"Ford's testing, and that of all others known to Ford, confirms that Explorers and other sport utility vehicles have similar performance before, during, and after a tread separation."

Ford bases some of its statements on U.S. Department of Transportation data, which it says "demonstrates that the occupant fatality rate for Explorer for all types of accidents is 1.1 per 100 million miles of travel, compared with 1.3 fatalities per 100 million miles for other compact SUVs, and 1.5 fatalities per 100 million miles for passenger cars."

"Ford has performed extensive testing of vehicle and tire interaction with Ford and other vehicles and various tires, including Firestone tires," Zino said. "The Explorer performs the same as competitive SUVs before, during and after a tread separation. This problem does not exist with Goodyear tires."

Ford is in the process of recalling millions of Ford, Mercury and Mazda vehicles in the United States to replace 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires not included in last year's voluntary recall by BFS. The company is basing its decision on internal research that singles out the tire as a potentially unsafe component on its vehicles.

Ford has expanded its recall to included vehicles in Europe and Japan as well.

Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) argues that Ford Explorers may be less safe than other sport utility vehicles due to a possible design flaw.

BFS says the vehicles in question "oversteer" following tire tread separations during routine highway driving conditions, which may lead to loss of driver control.

"When tires fail, either from a tread separation or a road hazard or other causes, drivers should be able to pull over, not roll over," said BFS CEO and President John Lampe. "The Explorer does not appear to give the driver that margin of safety to make it to the side of the road."

The tiremaker bases its claims on tests performed by Dr. Dennis A. Guenther, a mechanical engineering professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Last month Guenther tested the following vehicles: the 1996 Explorer 4x2, the 2000 Explorer 4x2, the 1996 Chevrolet Blazer 4x2 and the 2001 Jeep Cherokee 4x2.

He also discovered that Explorers "have a significantly lower amount of understeer than other SUVs," according to BFS reports.

"It is critically important to look at the tire and the vehicle as an integrated system," Lampe said in a letter addressed to NHTSA Acting Administrator L. Robert Shelton that also was forwarded to Ford Motor Co. officials. "What affects one, affects the other."

Congressman Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to NHTSA last week criticizing the organization for only investigating the tires involved in the rollover accidents that led to last August's voluntary tire recall by BFS.

For more information on the Ford-Firestone recall, check out the Financial News on www.mtdealer.com.

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