Foreign Tire Sales says Chinese tiremaker is ducking responsibility

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Foreign Tire Sales Inc. (FTS) says its efforts to recall up to 450,000 bad Chinese-made tires may drive the company into bankruptcy. A spokesman for the Union, N.J.-based importer says it is getting zero help from Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd., the Chinese manufacturer that built the tires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered FTS to recall up to 450,000 light truck radials that were sold under the Westlake, Compass and YKS brand names and Telluride model name.

Sizes to be recalled include: LT235/75R15 (CR861 and CR857); LT225/75R16 (CR861); LT235/85R16 (CR860,CR861 and CR857); LT245/75R16 (CR861 and CR857); LT265/75R16 (CR860, CR861 and CR857); and LT31x10.5-15 (CR857 and CR861).

Last summer, two people were killed and another severely injured when their van rolled over after a Hangzhou Zhongce-built Telluride tire separated.

"Hangzhou is telling us that nothing is wrong with these tires and that this is a conspiracy to defame their good name," Larry Lavigne, an FTS spokesman, told (Hangzhou officials have not responded to MTD's questions.)

FTS filed a Defect and Non-Compliance Report with NHTSA on June 11.

"For some period of time, these light truck radial tires were manufactured without a gum strip or with an insufficient gum strip between the belts or other construction to keep the belts from separating," said the letter.

"When FTS first purchased these tires, they were manufactured with .6mm gum strips. At sometime, unknown to FTS, Hangzhou Zhongce manufactured tires without gum strips and then with .3mm strips. Such construction is susceptible to belt and/or tread separations."

FTS stopped buying the tires in June 2006. "The percentage of tires currently containing the non-conformity is unknown." The number of tires that have already been removed from service also is unknown.

NHTSA has ordered FTS to provide a remedy program by July 2. Lavigne says the importer will set up an 800 number for consumers and its distributors. (FTS doesn't maintain a warehouse, according to Lavigne, but direct ships to customers instead.) In addition, he says NHTSA will post information on its Web site later today, June 27.

"As we notify our customers, we'll pay for the switching out of tires, the transportation of the tires, and the disposal of the tires."

Earlier this week, NHTSA told that by law, the importer of record "is the responsible entity" in cases such as this.

Lavigne says Hangzhou never told FTS it had made changes in the tires' construction. "We didn't know... they didn't tell us. We were hoodwinked!"

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