NHTSA opens investigation into one size of Continental's General Ameri*550AS

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has completed its review of 11 different models and sizes of tires that were designated by Ford Motor Co. as replacements for Firestone Wilderness AT tires on Ford vehicles.

W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R.-La.) requested the review on June 19, 2001. As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he provided NHTSA with claims data on the 11 tire models/sizes on Ford's list of replacement tires.

Here is NHTSA's official statement announcing its investigation into size P235/70R16 General Ameri*550AS tires (followed by Continental Tire North America Inc.'s statement on the Ameri*550AS issued to Modern Tire Dealer two weeks prior to NHTSA's announcement).

"After reviewing all of the available information, NHTSA has decided to open a defect investigation on one of the replacements, the General Ameri*550AS tire of the P235/70R16 size. The tires were manufactured by Continental Tire North America. The agency is not opening investigations into any of the other tires on the replacement list.

"This review was prompted by claims data obtained in response to a specific Congressional request. Under regulations NHTSA is developing under the authority of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act, manufacturers will be required to routinely provide the agency with data needed to help alert NHTSA to emerging safety issues.

"The Ameri*550 tire is used as original equipment on Ford F150 pickup trucks and was identified by Ford as a replacement for Firestone Wilderness AT tires on those pickups. Approximately 2.7 million of these tires have been produced since 1995.

"The tread separation claims rate for this tire is 124 ppm (parts per million). While claims rates are not determinative in themselves, this rate far exceeds that of any other tire on the committee's list. These claims on the Ameri*550 include seven crashes, including two rollovers, in which the tire failure apparently led to an injury-producing event, with a total of 17 claimed injuries.

"The manufacturer has made numerous design and production changes to these tires since they entered production in April 1995. It asserts that several of these changes had the effect of reducing the likelihood of a tread separation, particularly after certain modifications were implemented in July 1998. The claims rates for tires manufactured after these modifications are extremely low, and there have not been any injury-producing crashes attributed to those tires.

"Nevertheless, to assure that relevant information is not missed, NHTSA's investigation will consider the safety performance of the entire population of these tires, rather than only those produced prior to those design changes.

"NHTSA emphasizes that the opening of this defect investigation does not mean that NHTSA has concluded that these tires contain a safety-related defect or that they are not 'safe.' Rather, it reflects a decision that issues have been raised that warrant further investigation by the agency.

"For six of the 10 other tire models/sizes identified by the House committee, the agency is unaware of any crashes or injuries associated with them. The claims frequency for those tires also is low compared to the other tires on the list.

"For each of the remaining four tire models/sizes on the list, there are at least some claims that tire failures have led to crashes (some involving alleged injuries and/or fatalities). However, almost all of the crash-related claims involved tires manufactured in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and tires of that age are almost certainly no longer on the road. Moreover, the overall claims rates do not, in themselves, warrant the opening of a defect investigation.

"NHTSA emphasizes that the decision not to open a defect investigation at this time does not mean that NHTSA has concluded that the tires are 'safe.' Moreover, if the agency becomes aware of new information that indicates the existence of a significant problem with any of these tires, it will open a defect investigation at that time.

"These claims on the Ameri*550 include three crashes, including two rollovers, with a total of 10 claimed injuries."

Continental Tire says its adjustment rate on the more than 2.5 million General Ameri*550AS tires shipped to Ford from 1996 to present "has been excellent. We have received only six personal injury claims and there have been no fatalities.

"Out of those 2.5 million tires, we had one lawsuit that was settled a long time ago. The Ford Motor Co. has always expressed confidence in this tire, and we were proud that it was selected as one of the replacement tires for the Ford Wilderness AT replacement program."

Continental says the Ameri* 550AS tires shipped to Ford were primarily for use on the F150 pickup.

"The F150 is a pickup truck frequently used in off-road conditions and abusive conditions at construction sites, and property damage claims occur in this type of application. The General Ameri*550AS claims data must be viewed in this context. It cannot be compared with data from other tires and it is misleading to consumers to make generalizations about safety records based on one set of data."

As the Rubber Manufacturers Association, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. before it, Continental says evaluating a tire's performance on just a parts-per-million basis "is not an industry standard for measuring safety, but is only one of many measures to judge quality."

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