Federal agency sides with Ford Explorers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decided Tuesday there is insufficient evidence to investigate whether the Ford Explorer's design makes a crash more likely if the tread on the SUV's back tire separates.
The decision was a victory for Ford Motor Co. in its continuing tug-of-war with the makers of Firestone tires.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. asked the NHTSA to open an investigation into the handling and control characteristics of the Ford Explorer following a tread separation. The tire maker requested the inquiry based on its own test data.
But "the data does not support Firestone's contention that Explorers stand out from other SUVs with respect to handling characteristics following a tread separation," NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge said after a review.
The agency has documented more than 270 deaths and more than 800 injuries linked to tread separation rollover accidents involving Firestone tires. The majority of the accidents occurred on Ford Explorers.
Ford, which replaced more than 6.5 million Firestone tires on its vehicles in 2000, has blamed Firestone for the problem. Firestone has insisted that the design of Ford Explorers contributed.
Tire maker: Design defects
NHTSA's decision "is consistent with real-world performance data showing the Explorer to be among the safest of vehicles," said Sue Cischke, Ford's vice president of environmental and safety engineering, in a statement.
Bridgestone/Firestone offered a short statement: "Our reaction is that NHTSA has made its determination." The company provided no further comment.
Bridgestone/Firestone claimed Explorers had defects in their design because they had an inadequate margin of control for an average driver following a tread separation accident.
The company first said that condition existed in all Explorers, but later amended the claim to apply only to two-wheel drive Explorers made in 1995 or later.
The NHTSA concluded that "the data does not support Firestone's contention" that Explorers were more likely to cause a loss of control following a rear tread separation than other comparable SUVs.
-- CNN Consumer Safety Editor Julie Vallese contributed to this report.
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