August 2, 2001 - Ford Documents From January '99 Refer To Problems.
Ford Motor employees in at least two countries raised serious questions about the quality of Bridgestone/Firestone tires, as well as the tiremaker's integrity, by January 1999, Ford documents show. That was 18 months earlier than Ford has said it knew there was a serious tire problem. And it was 19 months before Firestone's Aug. 9 recall of 6.5 million tires.
Treads were peeling from Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, size P235/75R-15, most of which were on Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles. Result: Skids and rollovers linked to 88 deaths under investigation by the U.S. government and 47 being probed by the Venezuelan government. Elected officials in both countries have threatened criminal charges against the companies for allegedly ignoring the hazard.
On Jan. 28, 1999, Ford export-market executive Glenn Drake in Dubai sent a memo to Melanie Gumz, a product-concerns supervisor, criticizing Firestone and challenging Ford to probe the tires. Copies went to executives in Ford's Worldwide Direct Market Operations, which handles export sales.
Drake, under pressure from customers and dealers irate over Firestone problems, wrote, "Is it possible that Firestone is not telling us the whole story to protect them from a recall or lawsuit? I feel it is possible, and we owe it to our customers and our shareholders to investigate this for our own (peace) of mind."
Ford spokesman Jon Harmon says, "Should we have done exactly what he suggested � a full-scale investigation on our own? Perhaps that would have been better. It's easy to be smart in retrospect."
Ford began free replacement of Firestones in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries in July 1999, even though, it says, it didn't know why Firestones were failing.
"Until we could look at (Firestone) claims data six weeks ago, we had no way of knowing what the problem was or how to remedy it," Harmon says. Ford's analysis of that data is what pushed Firestone to recall the tires.
On Jan. 12, 1999, a A Ford "technical assistance to supplier report" regarding Firestone's Valencia, Venezuela, plant shows that some Ford executives knew of problems with Firestones, understood at least generally why they happened, and were actively supervising remedies. That's because, according to the report, Firestone's troubled Valencia plant had lost its status as a top-rank supplier needing little supervision � called Q1. To regain Q1, the plant would have to be monitored closely and audited by Ford.
Franklin Hoet, a Venezuelan attorney who has family members that were involved in a tire-related Ford Explorer accident, said the report shows that Ford was actively assisting Bridgestone/Firestone on known problems, yet failed to alert consumers. "We cannot wait for the companies to voluntarily divulge the danger," Hoet says. The same Venezuela report also lists types of tire construction that Valencia would try, in an attempt to manufacture a more-robust tire that Ford had been requesting because of tread problems. A key issue is whether that amounts to Ford actively designing the tires.
"That document is showing Ford taking a more active role in Firestone's execution of the tires. But it is design only in the most macro sense � definitely not engineering drawings and saying, 'This is what you must do,' " Harmon says.
Ford began replacing Firestones with Goodyears in Venezuela in May 2000 and made Goodyears standard equipment on its pickups and SUVs there last summer.
The Venezuelan situation is touchy because of the high death rate. While the USA has had 88 deaths linked to the tires, there are 3.6 million Explorers here. In Venezuela, with 47 deaths, there are about 24,000 Explorers. Because of that, Bridgestone/Firestone has portrayed itself as following Ford's orders. In an Aug. 21 letter to the Venezuelan government, Bridgestone/Firestone lawyer Francis Ginart de Olivastri wrote that Ford told the tire company in 1997 that certain Venezuelan tires "would have to be" made without nylon caps. Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone had agreed in 1996 to use the caps, common in Venezuela though rare in the USA, where speeds are slower and roads smoother.
Caps make tires sturdier but also cost a little more, and they make a tire ride slightly harder and trim fuel economy 1% or so, engineers say. Critics and lawyers suing over tire-related deaths and injuries say that caps, about $1 per tire, could help eliminate tread separation and save lives. Ford, Firestone and other tiremakers say no studies prove that. They also say that even a slightly stiffer ride could make already bouncy SUVs too harsh.
In all tire blowout and rollover cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of a serious automobile accident, call now at or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.