Ford and Firestone -- "There is no relationship"

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In a 5 p.m. news conference, Ford Motor Co. officials announced the recall of all 15-, 16- and 17-inch Wilderness AT tires on any of its vehicles. This includes OE tires and those sold as replacements.

Some 80% of those tires were OE on Ford Explorers, the others on some Expeditions, Rangers and F-150s.

According to Jacques Nasser, Ford's CEO and president, the relationship is over. Ford did not have enough confidence that the Firestone tires would keep its customers safe following testing in the field, in the lab and after reviewing competitve tire performance data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Calling the newly recalled 13 million tires "substantially better" than the 6.5 million Wilderness AT tires already voluntarily recalled by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS), Ford said this is a precautionary and preventive step they feel they have to make -- at a cost of $3 billion before taxes. Costs include the replacement cost of the tires themselves and the cost of notifying Ford customers.

The company said it will take a one-time charge in the second quarter.

To eliminate any confusion and any doubt of quality of its tires, Ford is recalling all the Wilderness AT tires made in any tire plant.

No Bridgestone/Firestone tires will be used as replacments. Ford is currently in negotiations with other tire manufacturers to fill supply needs. Ford also will stop production for a week or two weeks at some of its plants to divert tires needed for the recall.

John Rintamaki, group vice president and chief of staff at Ford, said field data showed an increasing rate of problems in the tires as they get older. Therefore, Ford will notify customers based on the age of their tires. The oldest tires will be recalled first.

Customers can get their tires replaced free at authorized Ford/Lincoln Mercury dealerships or other authorized outlets. Reimbursement at other outlets will be $110 for 15-inch tires, $130 for 16- and 17-inch tires, Ford said.

Countering Bridgestone/Firestone's claim that the vehicles are partly to blame, Ford pointed to studies that show the Ford Explorer is consistently among the safest in its class. It also said in data comparing 2.9 million Firestone tires on Explorers and 2.9 million Goodyear tires on Explorers in the years 1995 through 1997, Firestone tires had 1,183 tread separations while the Goodyear tires logged two. "Clearly, the tire is a major factor," in problems, Rintamaki said.

He also said BFS' statement that they were not sharing their data was far from the truth. The company submitted some 2.5 million pages of documents, technical analysis, and volumes of information and NHTSA competitive data to BFS. "That's the end of that story," Rintamaki stated.

These tires represent a "very clear risk to our customers," Nasser said. "And we're not prepared to take that risk." He said the design of the Wilderness ATs was "not as robust" as the other manufacturers' tires tested.

When asked if Ford plans to ask BFS to shoulder some of the costs, Nasser said they had had no such discussion with BFS, but said that they would some time in the future have to sit down and discuss it with the company.

In response to the press conference, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. said it is ramping up production of these sizes of tires and will work closely with Ford to "jointly develop an aggressive plan to address consumers' needs as quickly as possible."

Michelin North America Inc. said Ford had been in contact with the company about the issue, but had no further comment. "It will be up to Ford to make public the nature and content of those discussions," said a Michelin spokesperson.

John Lampe, chairman, CEO and president of BFS, said, "No one cares more about the safety of the people who travel on our tires than we do. Our tires are safe. When we have a problem, we admit it and we fix it. We've proven that.

"The real issue here is the safety of the Explorer. Ford refused to look at issues surrounding the Explorer in August. Ford failed to do that today.

"We stand behind our tires and look forward to the opportunity to show Congress, NHTSA and the American public why our tires are safe and that there are significant safety concerns with the Ford Explorer."

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