Ford Motor Co. and Firestone's troubles may get bigger as safety groups are calling for the federal government to expand the recall of Firestone tires beyond the original 6.5 million 15-inch ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, to encompass all the tires in those product lines.
Four congressional aides made a trip to Ford's world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., on Aug. 25 to discuss with executives what they knew about the tires and when they knew it. A spokesperson said the company was "very helpful." The aides were headed to Firestone's Memphis headquarters for meetings there.
The aides were dispatched on the fact-finding mission by Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.). Bliley chairs the House Commerce Committee. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who heads the Senate’s Commerce Committee, has set up a hearing on Sept. 6 and has invited officials from both Ford and Firestone to attend and testify.
The meetings took place after Ford president and CEO Jac Nasser filmed a commercial in the lobby of the company's headquarters reaffirming Ford's commitment to get the problem resolve as quickly as possible. The ad aired last week.
Ford and Firestone officials have both stated that an expanded recall of the tires is unnecessary. If they were recalled, it would amount to 47 million tires to be replaced. The effect would be crippling, both companies say.
Calls for expanded recalls "are causing people to be concerned about good tires," said Helen Petrauskas, Ford's vice president of safety, to the Associated Press. "Every time that happens, it means some customer with bad tires who needs them replaced has to wait much longer."
Ford has already shut down three of its assembly facilities due to a lack of tires. The tires have been sent to Ford dealers to help meet the crush of Explorer and Ranger owners who have flooded Firestone stores trying to get the tires swapped. Ford said that 13.3 percent of the recalled tires had been changed.
Newly appointed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Sue Bailey declined to talk about the investigation in any detail, but said that if a the agency found cause to recall the other tires, it would issue a recall.
However, that hasn't been enough for some. The Center for Auto Safety filed a lawsuit against Ford and Firestone in an attempt make the companies expand the recall. A former tire expert has also encouraged the companies to expand the recall.
"As long as those tires are being made and used, the potential for more deaths is real," said Max Nonnamaker, a tire consultant who used to work for Bridgestone/Firestone, in an AP report.
The P235/75R15 ATX and ATX II tires and the Wilderness AT tires have been linked to 62 deaths and more than 100 injures. The tires allegedly experience tread separation, which leads to a loss of control of the vehicle. Bridgestone/Firestone spokesperson Cynthia McCafferty said in a released statement that the current recall was enough to solve the problem.
"We believe that the scope of the recall is appropriate," she said. "We are still working with (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) on this investigation. We still haven't determined that a problem exists with these tires, we've just determined that the problems are of higher instances than with other lines."
One of the issues surrounding the tires problem is the discrepancy in recommended air pressures. Firestone recommends the tires be inflated to 35 pounds per square inch, while Ford recommends 26 psi. Recently, documents surfaced that suggested the Explorer would be more prone to roll over when inflated to the pressure recommended by Firestone.
Firestone alleged after the documents surfaced that inflating the tires to the lower pressure caused the tires to run hotter and could have increased the possibility of tread separation.