Ford Motor Co. is investigating 40 million of its vehicles worldwide in the wake of escalating safety concerns over the Firestone tires it has been using.
Ford also will re-examine all its tire-related accident records to see whether 'a common cause' exists, said Helen Petrauskas, Ford vice president in charge of environmental and safety engineering.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. are being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 193 accidents allegedly caused by tread separation on Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness radial tires. Among NHTSA's reports are crashes involving 21 deaths.
Other vehicle models use the tires. But NHTSA is focusing on Ford vehicles 'because of the 90 initial complaints we received, 70 involved Ford Explorers,' NHTSA spokesman Timothy Hurd said.
Three other complaints involved Ford F-150 trucks, two involved GMC Sierra trucks, and one involved a Chevrolet Blazer, NHTSA said. Some complaints do not identify the vehicle in question.
DEFENDING THEIR RECORD
Ford engineers are trying to duplicate the conditions of tire-related accidents to uncover the circumstances leading to them, Petrauskas said.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone, based in Nashville, Tenn., defended the safety of the Ford Explorer and the tires used as original equipment on the sport-utility.
In statements issued in late July, both Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone said government safety statistics show the Explorer is one of the safest vehicles on the road, and the ATX and Wilderness are two of the safest tires.
'Customer adjustments regarding the Radial ATX and Wilderness tires are extremely low and consistent with other tire lines,' Bridgestone/Firestone said.
The tire maker has produced approximately 48 million ATX and Wilderness tires.
Petrauskas did not rule out the possibility of Ford dropping Bridgestone/Firestone as a supplier if consumer fears escalate.
But a Ford spokeswoman said Ford is not considering such a move.
'The situation with Firestone is complicated. We're investigating it, and that's all we can say,' the spokeswoman said. 'They're a valued supplier.'
But Petraukas said Ford wants changes in the way warranty data for original equipment tires is processed. Currently, that information goes to tire makers instead of automakers.
Ford indicated there have been 25 lawsuits filed in recent years involving the Ford Explorer and the ATX and Wilderness tires. Only one suit came to court and it was decided in favor of the manufacturers, according to the automaker.
Staff Reporter Mary Connelly contributed to this report