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Ford lets dealers replace Firestone tires with other makes
DETROIT (CNN) -- Firestone's replacement of certain tires in response to dozens of deadly accidents is evidently not moving quickly enough for Ford Motor Co.
Ford has authorized its nearly 3,000 dealers to replace the potentially defective tires with other brands if Firestone's own substitutes are unavailable, Ford spokeswoman Bonnie Dawes told CNN on Saturday.
The automaker was reacting to customers angry at the prospect of waiting up to one year for Firestone replacements under the company's phased-in recall, The Detroit News reported.
Walt Sharp, a spokesman for Bridgestone/Firestone, said the company was not troubled by Ford's decision. He said Firestone dealers are also allowed to use competitors' tires if their own stock of tires does not meet consumer demands.
"In fact, from the beginning dealers in every state have been replacing tires as soon as possible because the number one priority for all us is public safety and consumer confidence," Sharp said. The company's phased-in recall does not mean that drivers in other states have to wait to switch their tires, he said.
"We continue to encourage all dealers in all states to respond immediately to their customers, replacing tires with competitors' brands if necessary," Sharp said.
Tires blamed for more accidents
Misgivings among more than a few affected Firestone customers have been mounting ever since Firestone announced last Wednesday a "voluntary precautionary recall" of more than 6 million tires. The recall affects the P235/75R15 Firestone radial ATX and radial ATX II tires, and Wilderness AT tires carrying the code name "VD." most of which are on Ford vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether the failures of those tires were to blame for some 46 fatalities across the country, up from 21 fatal accidents under investigation just last week.
Investigators have said some of the tires "shredded," leaving the trend separated from the tire's core. Ford vehicles, specifically the Explorer and its Mercury Mountaineer corporate twin, are the main users of those tires. But they are also found on vehicles from General Motors, Subaru, Toyota and Nissan.
Jerry Reynolds, head of the Ford National Dealer Council, said many potential Ford customers have agreed to buy a vehicle only if it does not come with Firestone tires. "Customers are saying, 'I feel good and safe with Explorers, but I won't buy one with Firestone tires,'" he said.
"Just don't buy a Ford with Firestone tires on it, or take the tires off," advised James Aikens, shopping at Detroit's Riverside Ford.
Phased-in recall criticized
Due to inventory problems, Firestone had announced a three-tier recall to manage demand for replacements, outraging worried customers and state officials not at the top of the list. South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon threatened to sue if his and other Southern states weren't included in the recall immediately.
Firestone's recall began in Texas, California, Arizona and Florida. In the fall, replacements are to be offered in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The third phase covers the rest of the country and is expected to be completed by the end of 2001.
"The vast majority of incidents are in the southern states of Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, which suggests there may be a direct correlation between heat and tire performance," Bridgestone/Firestone Executive Vice President Gary Crigger said earlier this week.
"Most of the incidents we have reviewed indicate improper maintenance or damage to the tires, which is often caused by underinflation of tires," he added. "Underinflated operation of any tire generates excessive heat, which can lead to tire failure."
Consumer information about the recall is available from Firestone's toll-free information line, 1-800-465-1904, or from Ford at 1-800-392-3673 or 1-800-660-4719.
Tire recall raises liability issues for Ford and Firestone
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