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Breaking News

Bridgestone/Firestone Holds Briefing on Massive Tire Recall

Aired August 9, 2000 - 11:00 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: This the site of a press conference just about to begin, regarding that massive recall of 20 million tires.

Let's go to the podium and find out what's happening now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... for Bridgestone/Firestone. I'd like to welcome you here today, and to provide you with some basic outline of how this program is going to be conducted. We also welcome all of you who are joining us by the phone link and by the e-mail program that we have established.

We anticipate that the opening statement will take no more than 10 minutes. I'll serve as the moderator for the Q&As and will be taking questions from the participants here in the room, as well as those sending in questions by e-mail and by phone.

Please be patient and we'll do the best we can to answer all of your questions. I'd like now to introduce the participants on the panel. First we have Mr. Gary Crigger, executive vice president Bridgestone/Firestone; in addition, we have Mr. John Lampy (ph), executive vice president, Bridgestone/Firestone; and Mr. Bob Martin (ph), he is a special adviser for quality to our company.

Also joining us today is Miss Helen Petrauskas, vice president environmental and safety engineering for the Ford Motor Company, as well as Mr. Tom Bachman, who is Mr. Tom Baughman (ph), who is engineering director of North American Truck, with the Ford Motor Company.

We'll begin with an opening statement by Mr. Gary Crigger. I would thank you very much for your attendance and for your attention, and now I'd like to introduce Mr. Gary Crigger.

GARY CRIGGER, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE INC.: Good morning. I'm Gary Crigger, executive vice president, Bridgestone/Firestone Incorporated. Thank you for being with us today.

Let me apologize for the lack of information over the past few days, Bridgestone/Firestone has been working around the clock with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford to understand the issues at hand and to determine the best path forward. Again, we apologize to our customers, the media, and the general public for any confusion that has been created.

In addition, we're aware that the public is having trouble getting through on our 1-800 line, and we are working hard to resolve this, and ask for your patience.

First, let me say that at Bridgestone/Firestone nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers. That's why the reports of vehicle accidents involving our tires are very disturbing.

Today, in the interest of safety and to help strengthen customer confidence, Bridgestone/Firestone is taking the extraordinary step of announcing a voluntary recall of all P235/75/R15 Firestone radial ATX and ATXII tires produced in North America, including Mexico.

To ensure that we are completely addressing our customers' concerns, we are taking the additional step of voluntarily recalling all of Firestone Wilderness AT tires in the P235/75/R15 size produced specifically at our Decatur plant in Illinois.

For those of you not familiar with tire labeling, P235/75/R15 is a tire size designation, and radial ATX, ATXII, and Wilderness are product brand names.

We are not limiting this recall. So no matter how old the tire, no matter how many miles they have on them, we will replace the P235/75/R15 with new tires at no charge.

Throughout this process we have been working very closely with Ford Motor Company and NHTSA to determine the cause of the accidents involving vehicles with these tires. We have not determined what, if any, problem there may be with the design and manufacture of these tires.

Although accidents involving these tires are rare in comparison to the millions of tires produced, our review of the data suggests three things. First, the number of reported incidents with the radial ATX and ATXII of the P235/75/R15 size is higher than other sizes in the line. Second, the Decatur, Illinois plant is over-represented in the accident claims and reports compared to the other plants. And third, the vast majority of the incidents are in the southern states of Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, which suggest there may be a direct correlation between heat and tire performance.

In addition, the abundance of concern surrounding the tires in question, clearly indicates that this is -- that there's a need for this action.

There have been approximately 14.4 million of these particular tires produced. We estimate that the number of tires still in use and involved in the recall is 6.5 million tires, including approximately 3.8 million radial ATX and radial ATXII tires of the P235/75/R15 size, and approximately 2.7 million Wilderness AT tires in the P235/75/R15 size produced specifically at our Decatur plant.

Given the preponderance of incidents in four southern states, and the limited supply of replacement tires at this time, we will be undertaking a three-phase recall. Beginning in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas as phase one. Phase two will include Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. And phase three would include the remaining states.

Supplies of existing products will be sent to the states as prioritized by each phase. We are working now to maximize product availability so that we can complete each phase as rapidly as possible. In addition, we are contacting regulatory authorities in Mexico and Canada.

Here is what the owners of P235/75/R15 size tires and the ATX, ATXII and Wilderness AT tires produced at the Decatur plant would need to do. If you have a recalled tire, you will receive a letter from the company notifying you of the recall, and the steps you need to take. As always, anyone who needs assistance should call our toll free customer service number at 1-800-465-1904.

If you have a recalled tire, call your local Firestone retailer to set up an appointment for an exchange. The recalled tires will be replaced with brand new Wilderness AT or other Bridgestone/Firestone tires. If necessary, the company will obtain other sources of supply.

If you don't know where the local Firestone retailer is located, call our toll-free customer service number for instructions.

We urge all vehicle owners using ATX and Wilderness tires to keep your tires inflated at the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. For owners of Ford Explorers or Mercury Mountaineers with P235/75/R15 ATX or Wilderness AT tires on your vehicles, Ford recommends these tires be maintained a minimum of 26 PSI.

At the request of Firestone, Ford has evaluated the performance of these tires at 30 PSI, and has determined that the vehicles maintain good performance characteristics at this higher pressure. Ford recommends a pressure range of 26-30 PSI. Firestone recommends a tire pressure of 30 PSI.

Clearly, we are very concerned any time there is an accident involving a vehicle with our tires. That is why we are taking this situation so seriously. Most of the incidents we have reviewed indicate improper maintenance or damage to the tires, which is often caused by under-inflation of tires. Under-inflated operation of any tire, generates excessive heat which can lead to tire failure. We believe the higher inflation level that we are recommending will enhance the performance and lifespan of these tires.

In the interest of promoting greater tire safety, we are asking all drivers to be as concerned about the maintenance of their tires as they are the other parts of their vehicle. We urge anyone who would like to have additional assurance about the quality of their tires to visit their local company-owned Firestone tire and service center for a free inspection.

At this point, on behalf of the company, I would like to extend our sympathies to the families who have been involved in these accidents. Again, we are taking this extraordinary step with the agreement and support...

(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF A LIVE EVENT)

QUESTION: ... documented more than two dozen death claims and lawsuits nationwide, did you not start investigating then? even if you had not noticed the list of lawsuits, certainly that was notification of at least two dozen accidents across the country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a -- you wanted podium.

CRIGGER: We investigate every accident, and every incident, and in the preponderance of those accidents we find that damage coming to the tire from outside is the cause of a failure. So, yes, we investigate every incident.

QUESTION: Did you start a new effort, Ford or Firestone, after a recall in February?

CRIGGER: We have a continuing effort to review all our incidents involving our tires?

Ma'am.

QUESTION: Can you reach the podium please? Thank you.

HELEN PETRAUSKAS, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: Let me answer your question and then I'd like to read a brief statement as I made. Actually, we first became involved in an investigation of tire tread allegations probably in the summer of 1999. And it actually happened outside the United States, and what we were getting were anecdotal reports of people taking sport utility vehicles, loading them up very heavily, deflating the tires, and taking them out for riding around in the desert, and then getting back on the highway, and then reporting tread separation. We also had anecdotal evidence of some maintenance concerns.

In any case, we started the investigation, I believe in Saudi Arabia, and then we moved, we then decided to look at other countries with very high climates.

In the spring of this year, right about the time you ran your program, what we were doing together with Firestone is an investigation in the Southwest of the country, and what we actually did is we had vehicle owners come in, and those that had very high tread usage, we exchanged tires with them, so we could take those high-use tires back to the laboratory and investigate them.

When we looked at those tires, what we did not find was evidence of the kind of tread separations we were seeing outside of the United States. So really, from about last summer on, continuing on until today, we have had a very, very vigorous investigation under way. If I may.

QUESTION: Ma'am, just a quick follow-up to that. Why, then, when we contacted you, were we not told about this investigation that you initiated? PETRAUSKAS: I'm sorry, I don't know who you talked to, and maybe the person you contacted simply didn't know. This was an investigation that was being done by engineers, and it's our regular course of business, when we hear about customer concerns, engineers go out and investigate.

QUESTION: Thank you.

HEMMER: Quite a bit of information coming out from the folks at Bridgestone/Firestone there with that briefing in Washington, D.C. We do know more information now in addition to what we were reporting earlier today. Apparently that plant in Decatur, Illinois has been the source of a number of complaints traced back to the tires that were produced there. In addition to that, we've been saying throughout the morning it appeared that in the southern part of the U.S. and in warm climates, especially in Arizona and Southern California where most incidents involving these tires have taken place.

Speaking of warm climates, here's John Zarrella live in our bureau down in Miami to talk more about this.

And I guess, John, your state is going to be one of the first targeted once things get under way in this investigation.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: That's correct. When the recall actually gets under way now, it's Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are the first four states, phase one of what Firestone officials are calling a three-phase approach to the recall. After that, they will begin recalling the tires in other southern states. And then following that, it would be nationwide.

I think what is interesting, as you pointed out, Bill, that after they began to review the evidence of tire separation here in the United States, they found three things in their review: The number of incidents is higher in these Wilderness tires and in the ATX and ATXII tires than in other tires; and that the Decatur, Illinois plant appears to be a focal point for the problems with the Wilderness tires; and that the vast number of incidents are being reported in southern states, hot weather perhaps attributing to the problems they're having.

So definitely interesting news coming out. 3.5 million ATX and ATXII tires on the road in the United States; 2.7 million of the Wilderness tires on the road. And they are saying that they will recall -- they will take back all the tires. There's no exceptions, which was the statement from Gary Crigger, the executive vice president at Firestone, saying not limiting the recall. We will replace at no charge all of the tires.

So, Bill, some very big news coming out, as we expected, from this news conference. It's likely to cost the Firestone company, for Bridgestone/Firestone, many millions and millions of dollars. Still unclear as to exactly what tires they will be replacing these old tires with if, in fact, it will be just the Wilderness tire, as Gary Crigger mentioned, or if they are running into a shortage, which apparently they say they will have -- what other tires will be acceptable on those SUVs.

Ford Motor Company officials there at the end of what we heard saying that they began looking into this back in 1999 after reports outside of the United States of problems on the Ford Explorers that were loaded down heavily then driven across the desert then back onto the highway. But they could not find in laboratory tests any evidence of this tire separation.

Of course, now, though, as a precautionary effort, both Firestone and Ford agreeing that the tires need to be pulled off the street and pulled off the street quickly. And, finally, the official from Firestone saying that he wanted to apologize on behalf of Bridgestone/Firestone to all of the families of the victims who have been involved in accidents that are being linked to these tires -- Bill.

HEMMER: And, John, we had that 800 number on the screen: 800- 464-19 -- 465, rather, 1904 on the screen there.

One other thing that they did talk about. Logic serves, if you overinflate your tire and if you're driving in a warm climate, then it is possible that that plane -- that that tire, rather, could overinflate itself given the hot temperatures. But they mentioned in that briefing that under-inflating the tire is actually more of a danger. Did you pick up on that? And if so, jump on in that, John.

ZARRELLA: Which is what they've said from the beginning. Even as of last week, Firestone has been saying that there's some -- that if you under-inflate the tire, which they recommend -- which I found interesting. They are saying that they're recommending 30 PSI, pounds per square inch of pressure, whereas they are saying, well, Ford Motor Company is saying that it's 26 to 30 is the recommendation, but that we -- that being the Firestone Company -- is recommending 30. So a little bit of contradiction in what Ford is saying is the recommended inflation pressure for the tires on the Explorer as to what Firestone is now saying they should be inflated to. But they did say that -- and have been saying right along -- if you under-inflate the tires and if your front end is out of alignment, this could be a cause for what's happening with these tires.

And, again, yes, this inflation issue keeps coming up as Firestone, once again, has not come flat out and said that there's anything wrong with the tire. Maybe there is -- there's certainly suspect evidence there -- but they're not saying. They're still trying to point the finger at -- perhaps some of this has to do with the inflation issue -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right. A lot of questions out there. We'll track it.

Once again, most of these tires used on Ford Explorers, which is the number-one-selling SUV in America.

John Zarrella, thanks, live in from Miami.

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