[Senate Hearing 106-1141]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
S. Hrg. 106-1141
FIRESTONE TIRE RECALL
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE,
SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 12, 2000
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SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
JOHN McCAIN, Arizona, Chairman
TED STEVENS, Alaska ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, South Carolina
CONRAD BURNS, Montana DANIEL K. INOUYE, Hawaii
SLADE GORTON, Washington JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER IV, West
TRENT LOTT, Mississippi Virginia
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, Texas JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE, Maine JOHN B. BREAUX, Louisiana
JOHN ASHCROFT, Missouri RICHARD H. BRYAN, Nevada
BILL FRIST, Tennessee BYRON L. DORGAN, North Dakota
SPENCER ABRAHAM, Michigan RON WYDEN, Oregon
SAM BROWNBACK, Kansas MAX CLELAND, Georgia
Mark Buse, Republican Staff Director
Ann Choiniere, Republican General Counsel
Kevin D. Kayes, Democratic Staff Director
Moses Boyd, Democratic Chief Counsel
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held on September 12, 2000............................... 1
Statement of Senator Abraham..................................... 6
Statement of Senator Ashcroft.................................... 22
Statement of Senator Breaux...................................... 12
Statement of Senator Bryan....................................... 5
Statement of Senator Burns....................................... 8
Statement of Senator Cleland..................................... 8
Statement of Senator Dorgan...................................... 11
Statement of Senator Frist....................................... 11
Statement of Senator Gorton...................................... 13
Statement of Senator Hollings.................................... 2
Prepared statement........................................... 3
Statement of Senator Hutchison................................... 4
Statement of Senator Inouye...................................... 14
Statement of Senator McCain...................................... 1
Statement of Senator Snowe....................................... 9
Statement of Senator Wyden....................................... 7
Claybrook, Joan, President, Public Citizen....................... 80
Prepared statement........................................... 83
Ditlow, Clarence, Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety..... 103
Prepared statement........................................... 105
Lampe, John, Executive Vice President, accompanied by Bob Wyant,
Vice President for Quality Assurance, Bridgestone/Firestone,
Prepared statement........................................... 44
Nasser, Jac, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ford Motor
Prepared statement........................................... 65
Ono, Masatoshi, Chief Executive Officer, Bridgestone/Firestone,
Prepared statement........................................... 44
Slater, Hon. Rodney E., Secretary, Department of Transportation,
accompanied by Dr. Sue Bailey, Administrator, National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration.................................. 15
Slater, Hon. Rodney E., prepared statement................... 19
Bailey, Dr. Sue, prepared statement.......................... 20
Lampe, John, Executive Vice President, Bridgestone/Firestone,
Inc., letter................................................... 113
FIRESTONE TIRE RECALL
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2000
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,
The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:30 a.m. in room
SH-216, Hart Senate Office Building, Hon. John McCain, Chairman
of the Committee, presiding.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN McCAIN,
U.S. SENATOR FROM ARIZONA
The Chairman. Good morning. I want to thank the witnesses
for their presence this morning. This morning's hearing is
important for a variety of reasons. It will offer the committee
and the public an opportunity to gain a better understanding of
the recall of 14.4 million Firestone tires. More importantly,
it will begin the process for this committee and hopefully this
Congress to examine and improve the policies of the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration to detect defects and
enhance the obligation of industry to provide safe vehicles to
While a great deal has been said by many people over the
past few weeks about this problem, the fact remains that our
attention to ensuring the safety of the driving public is
fleeting. It unfortunately takes a cumulative tragedy of more
than 80 lives to bring our collective attention to the long-
overdue task of reforming the way we investigate and remedy
Let me be clear. It is not my intention to use today's
hearings to lay blame upon any individual, company, or
Government agency. The liability of the parties involved will
be appropriately determined through ongoing investigations and
eventually the courts.
The fact is, we all share the blame equally when the system
fails. Congress sometimes interferes with Government regulators
in the prosecution of their duties, industry can be too focused
on profits rather than the safety of the public, and agencies
can become bureaucracies more concerned with paperwork than
advancing the very causes they were created to serve.
Serious questions remain about what Ford and Firestone knew
of this problem and when they knew it. The mounting evidence is
making it increasingly difficult to credibly believe that
neither of these companies knew anything of this problem until
late this summer. A recent Washington Post article cites a
Firestone report from mid-1998 that shows a dramatic increase
in customer claims on one of the tires that is subject to this
Furthermore, annual claims reports from Firestone show an
increase in claims associated with the tires subject to the
recall beginning in 1996 through 1999. Ford also received
numerous complaints about Firestone tires on Explorers in
overseas markets. These complaints were significant enough to
cause Ford to replace tires in 16 foreign countries.
Taken individually, each of these incidents may not be
cause for alarm, but taken collectively it is difficult to
believe that no one realized this was a problem until a month
ago. Both Ford and Firestone owe the American people an
explanation for why it took them so long to act.
I cite this article not as evidence of guilt, but as an
example of the problems with the current system. The current
system must be changed. When manufacturers fail to tell the
truth or purposefully neglect to report safety data, people
lose their lives. Severe penalties must result. It is my
intention to work with the Ranking Member and other members of
the committee to develop legislation to reform the process used
to detect, investigate, and recall defective vehicles.
Two weeks ago, I wrote to Secretary Slater about this
recall and asked for the administration's recommendations to
improve NHTSA's ability to detect defects. I look forward to
hearing the Secretary's views on that today.
Additionally, the committee will ask the Inspector General
to review the Office of Defects Investigations and make further
recommendations on how to improve its functioning and ensure
that it has the resources that it needs to protect the public's
safety. I am hopeful today we can move beyond recriminations
and toward the process of reform.
Again, I want to thank the witnesses for their presence,
and I look forward to their testimony.
STATEMENT OF HON. ERNEST F. HOLLINGS,
U.S. SENATOR FROM SOUTH CAROLINA
Senator Hollings. First, Mr. Chairman, let me welcome you
back to the committee, Senator McCain. We are delighted that
you are in good health and back with us.
Let me just sort of file my statement and summarize to save
time. What you and I typically have here is a situation where
Ford says we ought to recall the Firestone tires, Firestone
says we ought to recall the Ford cars, or Explorers. That
happens in these lawsuits. I used to try them, and it is like
tying two cats by their tails and throwing them over the
clothesline and let them claw each other, and that is why we
have joint cases and several in the tort procedure, but that is
not our duty here.
Our duty here is to try to see how we can improve the
situation and facilitate the replacement, if nothing else more
than anything else now require the reporting of any overseas
recalls. If we had had that, we would have been aware of this
at least 2 years ago. Reporting of the lawsuits, there is a
Business Week article to the effect that the lawyers are at
fault. Not at all.
We get into the trial of the case and the other side is
ready to settle, and they are ready to pay off, you cannot tell
the client that we have got to hold it up because I want to get
publicity. The lawyers are not at fault. The company is at
fault with all of these lawsuits and taking due diligence.
Under that circumstance they should have done something long
ago, other than just to recall.
So we ought to have those lawsuits, because when you have a
lawsuit it is not just changing a tire, it is damage, probably
injury. It could have been life lost. Otherwise, we have got to
upgrade the standards. The Firestone tire that is defective
that we are talking about complies with the present standard,
and so obviously the standards need upgrading, and we need to
upgrade the Secretary's budget, because I think we had a severe
cutback in the eighties.
We replaced some of that cut, but in contrast the number of
automobiles and otherwise to be checked have increased
measurably, and so we have got to play a little catch-up on the
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Senator Hollings follows:]
Prepared Statement of Hon. Ernest F. Hollings,
U.S. Senator from South Carolina
We have convened today to address a very serious issue--a massive
number of tires that are alleged to be defective in their design and
manufacturing. This matter involves two companies that are giants in
their industries: Ford, the number two automaker, and Firestone, the
number two tire manufacturer in the world. Firestone, in fact, has a
plant in my home state, which is located in Aiken. From the data I have
seen almost none of the tires that have been linked to tread
separations and accidents have involved tires from that plant.
As I noted, this is a serious case that has yet to be resolved.
When the recall was announced on August 9th, it was noted that 46
deaths had been linked to Firestone's tires and Ford's vehicles. Now
just a few weeks later, that figure has risen to 88 deaths.
Unfortunately, we are still counting.
We have come today to try to get to the bottom of this matter. And
there are some important questions that have to be answered. They
(1) LIs the number of tires that have been designated for recall
sufficient or should the recall be extended?
(2) LWhen did the relevant parties--Firestone, Ford and NHTSA--
become aware of the problem and did they act appropriately to protect
car owners from danger once the problem was discovered?
(3) LAre Firestone's tires and Ford's SUVs affected by
manufacturing defects and design flaws and have the companies known or
should have been aware of these conditions?
But the really crucial question is what is Congress going to do
about it? Surely, this case begs for policy changes. Federal tire
standards haven't been changed since 1973. Current law allows companies
to discover defects and conduct major recalls in foreign countries
without having any obligation to inform U.S. regulators or American
consumers. The current maximum civil penalties companies face is less
than $1 million. How is this going to deter multi-billion dollar
companies? Some will criticize NHTSA for not being aggressive enough on
the matter. That criticism is warranted. But when the agency went forth
with a rule earlier this year to establish updated rollover standards,
Members of Congress introduced legislation to block the regulations. In
response, I offered language to the State, Justice, Commerce
appropriations bill to salvage the rule by deferring the matter to the
National Academy of Sciences.
I am currently working with my able chairman on comprehensive
legislation to remove the numerous loopholes that exist in today's laws
and to ensure DOT has the authority and resources it needs to guard
against these egregious actions.
But I also would be remiss if I did not take this time to talk
about another policy issue, which I believe is equally important to
this case--and that is tort reform. If ever there were a case that
proves the fallacy of federal tort reform bills--it's this case. If
ever there were a case to prove the foolishness and recklessness of
criticisms of trial lawyers--like so many in this body like to do--it's
this case. Eighty-eight deaths and still counting. These products have
been on the market for how long--at least 10 years. And guess who first
discovered and exposed the issue? No, it was not members of Congress.
No, it was not DOT or Secretary Slater. No, it was not the media,
newspapers, nor a Texas television station. It was trial lawyers. They
were the individuals who exposed this coverup if there is one. The
reason we sit here today testifying before all the media and the nation
about this issue is because of the diligent, arduous, persistent work
of trial lawyers--those brave men and women lawyers who, unlike their
corporate counterparts, work from the sweat of their brow, not on a
guarantee but on a contingency fee, in their efforts to seek
compensation for those who have suffered a serious injury or loss of a
loved one due to a defective product.
I also must point out my aghastness at the aghastness of some
members of Congress about this matter. Some act as if this case is
something unique. It's not. This conduct happens all the time. Why do
you think in the last 5 years there have been over 73 million recalls
of automobiles alone?
Have we forgotten the Firestone 500 tire debacle of the late 1970s
and early 1980s--19 million tires recalled on the basis of tread
separations, 41 deaths. And what did the Congress do? It cooperated
with the Reagan Administration in slashing NHTSA's budget so it could
prevent NHTSA from going after such conduct. Though I have fought years
to give NHTSA more FUNDING, and though the Clinton Administration has
sought some improvements, the agency has never recovered from the
massive budget cuts of that period. But guess who initiated the review
of the Firestone 500 case--plaintiffs' lawyers.
Have we forgotten the Ford Pinto case involving a defectively
designed gas tank that caused Ford Pinto automobiles to explode on
impact? Evidence at trial revealed Ford knew the problem existed and
could have fixed the gas tank for $11 a car. However, it was not until
lawsuits were filed, and a $3.5 million punitive verdict was issued,
that the company decided to redesign the car.
Have we forgotten about the GM pickup side-saddle gas tank case--
where the company placed a gas tank on the outside of the guard rail
causing the vehicle to explode upon impact--resulting in several
Certainly, I can go on and on, with example after example, but the
point is clear that this case we're reviewing today is nothing new. The
fact is that most of these matters are exposed and settled through the
tort system. Yet, for more than 20 years, members of this body have
pushed for the passage of legislation to restrain the tort system from
holding companies accountable when they engage in egregious and
flagrant conduct. They would do this by making it more difficult for
citizens who are injured by such conduct to collect damages from
wrongdoers--even in light of evidence that the company concealed
information and knew about the dangers of a product before it was
marketed. I am often perplexed as to why members of this body would be
more enthusiastic about passing legislation to protect Ford and
Firestone, even if it's proven they knew of defects in their products,
than legislation to give NHTSA more resources to protect the public.
Even as we sit here today, there are product liability, class
action and asbestos bills awaiting action. As I mentioned earlier, this
case should make it clear as to why it is unwise for Congress to pursue
The Chairman. Thank you very much, Senator Hollings.
I would remind my colleagues we have three full panels
today, and would respectfully request that their opening
statements be as brief as possible.
STATEMENT OF HON. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON,
U.S. SENATOR FROM TEXAS
Senator Hutchison. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In my home
State of Texas alone there are 338,000 Ford Explorers currently
registered with the Texas Department of Transportation. I
understand from what I have read that the separation on the
tires in question is more likely to occur at high temperatures.
Well, it is no secret that this summer, Texas has suffered one
of the worst droughts in history, and severe high temperature
strings, breaking the 100-degree mark most every day of the
last 2 months, and so the people of Texas are very concerned
about this issue today, and certainly the extent of the danger
that is presented in the future.
As the chairman said, we need not to focus so much on the
blame, but on what we can do now, and what we can do to prevent
anything like this happening in the future, but it is alarming
that last week, according to testimony received in the House
Commerce Committee, an insurance company investigator notified
the agency of NHTSA in July 1998 about the potential defect.
One year later, Ford was offering free replacement tires in
Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Malaysia, and yet NHTSA did not
begin to look at this situation until May of this year, and by
the time the agency commenced a formal investigation in August,
at least 41 people had died on American roads, possibly as a
result of faulty tires, so I think we need to find out if there
is an information gap.
Is there more responsibility that needs to be placed in the
hands of NHTSA? We need to know exactly what has happened, and
what the time line was, in order to address these issues, which
I hope we will be able to do in the hearing today, and then as
we go in the future, working on legislation together on a
bipartisan basis in Congress.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Hutchison.
STATEMENT OF HON. RICHARD H. BRYAN,
U.S. SENATOR FROM NEVADA
Senator Bryan. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for
convening this hearing. I think what we are dealing with this
morning is a systemic failure, a failure that has had tragic
consequences for 88 Americans who lost their lives and hundreds
of others who, as a result of this failure, were injured as a
consequence, and for the two companies involved, Ford and
Firestone, it is a sordid chapter in the history of two
companies that for more than a century have become household
names for the American public.
Americans are quite properly indignant when they learn that
Firestone initiated and Ford initiated recalls in Saudi Arabia
more than year before the notice of recall was issued in this
country. Other countries were also given earlier recall
notices, Malaysia, Thailand, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador,
and the question arises, are not American lives as important to
protect and safeguard as lives in these other countries, which
were clearly given an earlier notice and opportunity, something
that I find particularly troublesome, Mr. Chairman, and perhaps
we can get into that issue this morning.
I know nothing about the case that appears on the front
page of The New York Times dealing with what is called a thick
film ignition, a TFI module, but I do know that the language
that the courts used in indicting and condemning the actions of
Ford are quite troublesome.
Let me just read very briefly. Among the things the court
had to say is that Ford's dissimilation reached its nadir in
the testimony of Bob Weeks, Ford's witness designated as the
most knowledgeable about safety issues, when he insisted that
safe is too subjective, and denied knowledge of any written
definition of what is safe with Ford Motor Company, and then
the court went on to say, rather, it seems Ford used the
tortured interpretations of common language to avoid its
responsibility to NHTSA, the Environmental Protection Agency,
and the consuming public.
Now, I do not know if this is a part of a pattern of
conduct or not, but that is something that clearly we need to
explore this morning.
And finally, Mr. Chairman, it seems to me we need to
examine whether or not NHTSA itself has the tools to do the
job, among those things we need to consider is whether or not
we ought to increase the amount of civil penalties, whether or
not there should be a requirement, and I would think the answer
to this is clear, that there ought to be a requirement(s) that
a foreign recall require and trigger automatically a notice to
the agency that is responsible, NHTSA. That apparently is not
the current law. Whether or not the retention of records should
be extended for a period of time so that retrospectively we can
examine the safety examination as it relates to a product that
is later recalled, whether or not the statute of limitations
ought to be issued, and whether or not we ought to be amending
the statute of limitations on the period of time for reporting
I look forward to hearing from the distinguished panels you
have convened this morning, and hopefully we can provide
answers this morning to the question that the American public
is asking each of us, why were we not given notice much earlier
in light of the overwhelming evidence that there was a problem
with these tires.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you. Senator Abraham.
STATEMENT OF HON. SPENCER ABRAHAM,
U.S. SENATOR FROM MICHIGAN
Senator Abraham. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to commend
you for calling this hearing, and I look forward to working
with you both on the hearing today and the legislation you
mentioned to ensure that the committee gathers all the facts
and provides consumers as much information as we can on the
issue of defective tires.
Clearly, I think this hearing should focus on the current
tire recall, what should have been done, what should still be
done, and what steps in the future must be taken to ensure
consumer confidence as well as minimize consumer risk and I
think, Mr. Chairman, if we proceed in a constructive and
informative fashion we can move closer to answering those
Also, Mr. Chairman, I would like to just welcome today one
of my constituents, Jack Nasser of Ford Motor Company to the
Senate Commerce Committee. During his brief tenure as the head
of Ford he has built a strong reputation as both a respected
business and community leader, and I commend him for both being
here today and for what Ford has already launched in an effort
to address this problem, but obviously, Mr. Chairman, as a
Senator from Michigan I also represent a considerable number of
Ford employees in addition to Mr. Nasser, and I would note that
they are extremely hardworking and decent craftsmen and women
who take great pride in the product they produce.
As the son of a United autoworker myself, I can assure the
committee that our auto workers and auto companies are
dedicated to providing consumers with the highest quality and
safest vehicles possible.
Mr. Chairman, it strikes me that there are several areas of
inquiry that we must examine in today's hearing. One, we need
to evaluate and understand the circumstances, the reasons that
recalls were instituted in other countries and why no similar
action took place here in the United States. Second, we must
explore the magnitude of the existing recall. Is it sufficient?
What are the critical next steps that these companies as well
as the Government should take to address the situation, and
third, I believe the committee must examine the current
Government procedures and practices in addressing this type of
situation. Should existing laws and regulations be amended? Are
there new steps we should pursue?
I appreciate you taking this step to begin the process in
putting the hearing together, and the witness' willingness to
be here with us today, and I look forward to working with you,
Mr. Chairman, and our colleagues on the committee to address
these problems with you.
The Chairman. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF HON. RON WYDEN,
U.S. SENATOR FROM OREGON
Senator Wyden. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will be brief,
and really have only three points. The first is, after all that
is already on the record I believe that it is thoroughly
unreasonable for Firestone to not admit that there is a safety
defect after all of these deaths that have been linked to their
I think it is also unreasonable that they have failed to
disclose the 100 lawsuits, in not reporting to regulators that
there were problems. That is point number 1.
Point number 2, as of last week only about a quarter of the
recalled Firestone tires had been replaced. Consumers in my
home State of Oregon are in the last group of customers under
Firestone's phase 3 recall. They are going to have to wait
until next year to get replacement tires. I have got a Ford
Explorer in the basement of this building, and I will just go
through the process in terms of replacement there, but I want
to see my constituents get some assistance.
And finally, the last point I want to make, Mr. Chairman,
is that today we are going to have witnesses. They are going to
be subjected to vigorous questioning, and there will be debate
among our colleagues as to what to do, but I would submit that
because there were similar hearings 20 years ago with the same
company the real challenge now is to ensure that changes are
adopted, substantive changes are adopted so that another
committee is not sitting in this same room 20 years from now
going over the very same issues.
So we ought to recognize that this is our first and
foremost challenge today, and I look forward to working with
the chairman and our colleagues to addressing this issue, and I
The Chairman. Thank you. Senator Burns.
STATEMENT OF HON. CONRAD BURNS,
U.S. SENATOR FROM MONTANA
Senator Burns. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. My
statement will be very brief. Thank you for calling this
hearing, and I think we are fulfilling our oversight
responsibility today not just by looking at the continuing
stories of this situation, but also at our ability to assure
that Government is fulfilling its responsibilities.
Gaps have been noted, if you read the press and what is
happening in hearings previous to this one. I think now that
probably more gaps will be noted as a result of this hearing.
We can take that information, connect the dots, and fill in
some of the blanks. The consuming public expects no less.
I look forward to the testimony we will hear today and the
questions and answers that will follow these opening
statements, and I thank the chairman for convening this
The Chairman. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF HON. MAX CLELAND,
U.S. SENATOR FROM GEORGIA
Senator Cleland. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome back, Mr.
Chairman. It is good to see you, Mr. Chairman. Based on what I
have heard about these tires, it is a good thing I do not have
them on my wheelchair, otherwise I would not be here, probably.
Let me just say that I do recall that, as a student of
American history that Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone and
Thomas Edison worked closely together and were very good
friends at the turn of the 20th Century, and worked together in
harmony to produce in effect probably one of the greatest cars
and one of the greatest corporate teams the world has ever
known, and made the American automobile the envy of the world.
Something dramatic has happened. I do not know what
happened, and I hope that these hearings will cast some light
on what has gone wrong, but it distresses me that two great
companies that together helped to build the American automobile
and its safe travel over millions of miles now will not even
sit at the same table together at this hearing. Something has
to be done.
I would say that another thing that bothers me is that
tires were recalled in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Thailand,
Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador before American officials were
ever really notified. I mean, the American consumer is not
chopped liver, and we ought to know about these things.
However the arrangement between Ford and Firestone was
early on in the 20th Century, it is obvious that something has
gone wrong now. They keep information from one another, from
the U.S. Department of Transportation and worst of all from the
American consumer. I am looking for some way to respond to the
47 Georgians who have reported to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration problems with their tires, some of them
while traveling at speeds upwards of 70 miles an hour, and the
countless others who are legitimately concerned about their
Now, the Ford Explorer has been the highest selling sports
utility vehicle among all SUV's. Many of these sales were to
families who bought the Explorer based on its being a safer
vehicle due to the increased height above other cars on the
road. I understand that by the spring of 1999 Firestone had
already logged 800 consumer complaints of tread separation, and
for over 10 years Ford had been advocating inflating tires to a
less than maximum level to decrease chances of roll-over,
rather than making structural changes to the automobile.
While the jury is still out on whether the tire and lower
psi level combination contributed to some of these accidents, I
am disappointed that the Explorer was marketed as a safe family
vehicle when problems were actually known.
Now, this corporate behavior is actually unacceptable. What
can we do? Well, we can work with the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration to improve their ability to gather
information about products sold in the U.S., and increase the
resources with which they have to work. I would like to know,
Ms. Bailey, about your budgets and whether or not you are able
to do the job we expect of you.
I would also like to encourage the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration to continue its work with these companies
to ensure that the 6.5 million tires in the voluntary recall
are actually changed out.
Last year this committee and the entire Congress passed a
law to establish the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration. Safety was an integral part of this new agency,
and its establishment, and I believe we can aid the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency which has been
focused on safety since its establishment, to better accomplish
its goals in promoting highway safety.
I look forward to hearing the testimony of Secretary Slater
and Dr. Bailey on their insights and what we can do as a
Congress to make sure that no more lives are lost to this
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF HON. OLYMPIA J. SNOWE,
U.S. SENATOR FROM MAINE
Senator Snowe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you
for holding this hearing, of vital importance to Americans, and
you know, listening to a number of the issues that have already
been raised in the course of the various hearings last week and
now, I find my level of disbelief only increases the more I
learn about the indefensible lapse of corporate action and
behavior that we are examining here today, and of all the many
questions that behavior has raised in my mind, none is more
prominent or more illustrative than the issue at hand, the
simple question of how is it we even got to this point?
Here we are, at least 88 American lives later, 250
Americans injured, trying to figure out how it is that so many
warning signs were seemingly ignored on the way to tragedies
that in all likelihood could have been prevented? Numerous red
flags have been disregarded over a decade. How is it both
companies involved, and Federal regulators, had evidence these
tires might be hazardous, Ford Explorers were almost three
times as likely to be involved in tire-related fatalities, and
as far back as 2 years ago State Farm notified NHTSA about
Firestone tire failures, yet no action was taken?
How is it that Ford was concerned enough to take 16-inch
Firestone tires off trucks in Venezuela and the Persian Gulf,
Malaysia, Colombia, and Ecuador, but apparently not concerned
enough to do so here in the United States? When the company
issues a recall or obtains evidence concerning a potentially
dangerous product being marketed in another country, there
should be no question that the American public and U.S.
authorities at the very least have a right to know, and they
deserve to know.
Now, it is certainly true we cannot change what has
happened, but we certainly have an obligation to explore the
chain of events that allowed, whether through benign neglect or
purposeful withholding of information, or both, these tragedies
to occur so that they will not occur again. We owe that much to
I saw a headline in the newspaper the other day that said
documents portray tire debacle as a story of lost
opportunities. It was a story of lost opportunities to save
lives, Mr. Chairman, and that is essentially what this hearing
is all about.
And so I say to the corporations who are here today who are
implicated in this entire episode, you are not apart from this
society. You are a part of this society, and while we can never
ensure that every product will be safe at all times under all
circumstances, the American public must have some assurance
that all actors in bringing consumer products to market, from
manufactured goods, to contractors, to the Federal Government,
are acting in good faith and in the best interest and the well-
being of consumers.
As a Nation and as a society, we believe you should have as
broad and as fair a playing field as possible on which you may
compete and hopefully succeed. We say if you are willing to
assume the risk in the marketplace we are prepared to reward
you generously should you build a better mouse trap, a better
tire, or a better SUV.
In return, in relative terms, we ask very little. We ask
that when we use your products responsibly, that you reveal
flaws in your design and manufacturing, that you deal with us
honestly. We ask you to assume responsibility for your actions,
as we ask each other to do so as individuals, and so we have a
right to know, Mr. Chairman, whether or not the companies
intentionally withheld information from regulators.
We do have a right to know who knew what when, and what
could have been done differently. We have an obligation to
ensure and to determine that these tragic circumstances do not
repeat themselves ever.
Obviously, we cannot legislate corporate conscience, but we
can ensure that the NHTSA budget is adequately funded, and that
is where we have an obligation to make sure that we have the
kind of funding that ensures oversight and has the regulatory
legal framework to ensure that we can protect the well-being of
consumers. We owe that much to the American people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Senator Dorgan.
STATEMENT OF HON. BYRON L. DORGAN,
U.S. SENATOR FROM NORTH DAKOTA
Senator Dorgan. Mr. Chairman, we are glad you are back with
We do not live in a perfect world, and mistakes will be
made and products will fail. We all understand that. But the
story in this circumstance is enormously troubling to me. Both
Ford and Firestone in the early cases were sued for tire
failures, and those suits were settled with gag orders, and
those gag orders prevented the American people and our
government safety experts from knowing what the risks were with
those products. That is enormously troubling.
I assume some knew what the risks were, but the gag orders
prevented most people from knowing what the risks were, and
others then purchased products and lost their lives because of
that. That is just unforgivable, and I hope that through these
hearings and through other mechanisms we discover ways to
prevent that from ever happening again, and perhaps through
this tragedy of product failure and loss of lives Congress will
rediscover merit in the role of Government, in sensible
regulations, and in the enforcement of safety standards.
Funding regulatory agencies and giving them the teeth in
law to deal with these issues is important. We have been
through a couple of decades in which the word regulation was
used as a pejorative sort of word around here in Washington,
D.C. Sensible regulation in the face of larger and larger
corporations that have greater and greater power over the lives
of the American people, especially sensible regulations in the
area of safety standards, and especially the enforcement of
those regulations, ought to be made clear with this case and
perhaps in that manner other lives will be saved in the future.
I am anxious to hear from the corporations, and I would say
that I would agree with my colleague from Oregon. I think it is
important to just step up and admit that these were product
failures, significant mistakes were made, the gag orders should
not have occurred, the company should have understood this
earlier. I mean, let us clear the slate here and start over,
but let us also learn from this in a significant way about the
merits and value of having sensible regulatory opportunities to
enforce safety standards.
The Chairman. Dr. Frist.
STATEMENT OF HON. BILL FRIST,
U.S. SENATOR FROM TENNESSEE
Senator Frist. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will be brief. I
do think it is regrettable we are here once again in the U.S.
Senate Commerce Committee to discuss how we have failed, and we
is in a generic sense, the American consumer.
This recall marks a personal tragedy for many families. A
good friend of mine is now dead because he was driving a Ford
Explorer with a Firestone ATX tire. Many people have lost loved
ones, and industry regulators, Congress has been insufficiently
The size and scope of the Firestone recall in question
regarding Ford Explorer stability during a blow-out are
tremendous, with 90 deaths attributed to this tread separation,
and 4.5 million of these tires still on the road today. We must
act, we should act, and we should act in an expeditious way.
Three critical goals in my mind: first, we must make the
consumer whole. It is imperative that a mechanical failure not
be a ticking time bomb that thrusts drivers into deadly
accidents. Those tires still on the road must be replaced with
Second, we must demand accountability, accountability
across the board. Finger-pointing between Firestone and Ford
and public relations campaigns and even public servants
standing on the issue is insufficient, is not right, because
they are not the solutions that Americans both demand and, I
And third, Congress and the executive branch regulators
need to enact a more effective warning system, it is crystal
clear, in order to shed light, to have full transparency when
such defects are there. Lives are at stake. Dr. Gary Haas is
dead today. Gary and I operated for years side by side, or in
the same operating room at the Massachusetts General Hospital
in Boston. Unfortunately in a different situation in a
different car with a different tire--as I mentioned, it was a
Firestone ATX tire which separated from his Ford Explorer--he
would be alive today. He had taken his son to go to college, a
great man, a great surgeon who has contributed so much in his
There are many personal stories like that, and it is hard
to separate from those personal stories, but it is crystal
clear that we must and have a responsibility to do all of this.
The big statistics, the big numbers are important to use for
documentation, but clearly our role is to respond in a
reasonable, balanced, intelligent, common sense way, and I look
forward to these hearings contributing to that debate and to
that discussion and ultimately to the implementation of a
policy which will save lives.
The Chairman. Senator Breaux.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN B. BREAUX,
U.S. SENATOR FROM LOUISIANA
Senator Breaux. Welcome back, Mr. Chairman, also, on behalf
of all of us.
As millions of Americans, I have a Ford truck and I have
Firestone Wilderness tires on it, and that certainly gives me a
great deal of concern. I think that what we in this committee
need to determine today is what happened, exactly how it
happened, where it happened, and even more importantly, what is
being done to prevent it from ever occurring again.
I think the confidence that the American public has with
people who produce products is in a large extent based on the
honesty of those producers of those products. The American
people are smart enough to know that products fail. We are not
living in a perfect world. But what they do expect from those
who do produce products that are determined to be defective is
honesty in admitting it and letting the American people know
that they are taking the steps immediately to make sure that it
does not happen again.
It seems to me that early on there were a lot of bells and
whistles and red flags being raised about the safety of these
products not just in this country but throughout the entire
world, and I think the big problem we have here is the fact
that this is clearly a situation that never should have
occurred. The product should not have been made defective, of
course, but even more importantly than that, we should never
have allowed a situation to occur that in effect denied the
fact that there was a problem. I think that is as much of a
serious problem as the fact that the products were made
defective in the first place.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Senator Gorton.
STATEMENT OF HON. SLADE GORTON,
U.S. SENATOR FROM WASHINGTON
Senator Gorton. Thirty, 26, 32, 35, not an audible used,
Mr. Chairman, by the Washington Redskins, but answers I have
received while inquiring about the proper tire pressure for
recalled Firestone tires. Making phone calls over the last few
weeks to Ford dealerships, Firestone tire outlets and other
tire manufacturers to check on the progress of recall in
Washington State, I have gotten conflicting reports from every
source about the best tire pressure for Firestone tires on
This is unacceptable even for this relatively short period
of time before they are all replaced. It is something that, Mr.
Secretary, I would like very much for you to look into
promptly, and if you cannot get answers from the companies that
are consistent, would you please in your capacity advise people
as to how they should be using the tires as long as they are
required to continue to use them.
As we work to uncover the truth about where the current
system failed, I call upon both Ford and Firestone to do the
same thing. Efforts by Ford to shut down production at three
assembly plants to make 70,000 new tires available to consumers
is a necessary step, one, but only one of which must be taken
to remedy a situation that gets worse every day.
After the round of hearings last week, I think it is fair
to conclude that all parties in this fiasco are at fault to
some degree, but each blames the other. Continued finger-
pointing is going to do nothing to ensure the safety of my
constituents, or those of any other member of this panel. We
must determine the root of the problem in order to ensure that
it does not happen again.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cannot
allow a situation like this to continue without much more
prompt intervention, and it obviously needs the tools in order
to do so.
Last week, at one of the earlier hearings, Mr. Chairman, I
pointed out that citizens in northern States like my own are
very much lagging from the point of view of these replacements.
My constituents do not know when they can get their tires
replaced. The Firestone Tire Service Center in Seattle says it
is a 2- to 6-week wait. The Firestone hotline says that that is
highly optimistic. Russ Dean Ford in Pasco, Washington has been
waiting for 6 or 7 weeks for any tires, Goodyear, Michelin,
Firestone or any other make. They simply do not have them.
The only places in Washington at which you can get prompt
replacements are those who manufacture their own tires, and one
of those dealerships, Les Schwab, is not requiring the
customers to pay for those replacements but is seeking that
payment from Firestone itself, which is a highly responsible
But Mr. Chairman, we need to know how this took place. We
need to know, even more importantly, how we are going to
prevent it from taking place again in the future, and we need
to be told how people should protect themselves in the time
that they cannot get these tires replaced.
The Chairman. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF HON. DANIEL K. INOUYE,
U.S. SENATOR FROM HAWAII
Senator Inouye. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome back,
The Chairman. Thank you, sir.
Senator Inouye. I believe that all of us should remember
that we are not here as prosecutors in a criminal case, nor are
we here as lawyers trying a multimillion dollar liability case.
We are here to determine whether something went wrong with our
regulatory system and, if so, is there something we can do to
improve upon that, and so, Mr. Chairman, I am here to listen
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Inouye. I want to thank
the witnesses for their patience. The length of the opening
statements indicate the deep concern that the members of this
I would just like to make two comments, Secretary Slater
and Ms. Bailey, before we begin. One is that I intend, and I
hope that all the members of the committee will join me in
writing a letter to the Appropriations Committee asking them to
remove the provision which would prohibit the implementation of
the consumer rollover rating system study, or system until a
study is conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. It is a
classic example of inappropriate legislation on appropriations
bills, and it also reflects and enhances the cynicism of the
American people that special interests can have a provision
like that enacted on an appropriations bill.
It was appropriate only to be enacted, if it was necessary,
by this committee, the authorizing committee, not the
appropriating committees, and I hope all of my colleagues will
join me in seeing that that provision be removed by the
Transportation Appropriations Committee conferees.
Finally, Secretary, I have discussed with Senator Hollings
the importance of acting as quickly as possible. That is why it
is important that we hear from you today. Senator Hollings and
I believe that it is possible that we could mark up legislation
next Wednesday here in the committee that may not be
comprehensive legislation, but perhaps we could mark up and
report out of the committee and try and get action in the
Congress before we go out of session in a very few weeks, and
that is why your testimony, Ms. Bailey, is important here
Thank you, Secretary Slater.
STATEMENT OF HON. RODNEY E. SLATER, SECRETARY,
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, ACCOMPANIED BY
DR. SUE BAILEY, ADMINISTRATOR, NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY
Secretary Slater. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chairman McCain,
Senator Hollings, members of the committee, first of all let me
acknowledge how we listened carefully to all of the opening
statements, and how very much we appreciate the partnership
that we have enjoyed with this committee to work on matters of
importance as it relates to transportation and transportation
safety over the course of this Administration.
Let me also acknowledge at the outset that I am very
pleased, and I know Dr. Bailey is as well, to hear about the
specific measures you just mentioned, Mr. Chairman, that will
clearly help us in this regard.
I would like to thank you and the members of the committee
for holding this hearing, and to begin I want to emphasize yet
again the importance of safety to this Administration and to
the U.S. Department of Transportation. Safety is our top
transportation priority. At the Department of Transportation we
have said that it is the North Star by which we are guided and
by which we are willing to be judged.
I want to again commend the leadership of the committee and
all who have worked with us to really change the focus of
transportation and to focus clearly on safety over the course
of our work together. Let me also say that I am very pleased to
be joined here today by Dr. Bailey, who will come before this
committee in but a few days, on Thursday, to seek formal
confirmation by the Senate. She has already been recess-
appointed by the President, but we appreciate yet again, Mr.
Chairman, the opportunity that you and members of the committee
afford her to come before you to talk about her commitment to
safety and the commitment of NHTSA to safety.
In that regard, as I think about the fact that she will
come before you in the next few days, I reflect on the fact
that almost 4 years ago I came before this committee and
committed to you at that time, as I, too, was seeking
confirmation, that I and the 100,000 members of the U.S.
Department of Transportation would continue to make safety and
security the highest priority of the Department.
I promised to strive to raise our current levels of safety
to ever higher heights, and to work with members of this
committee, our partners and stakeholders, and the American
people in doing so. We have done that, and this committee
should be proud of the work that we have done together.
I also appreciate the fact that not only is the record
impressive, but we are yet committed to improving on that
record. We will do so, as was mentioned by Senator Cleland, as
we fully implement the provisions in the Motor Carrier Safety
Administration bill that was passed just last year.
We will do so as this committee and the Congress continue
to move on pipeline safety legislation, as the Senate
unanimously approved this measure just the other day, and the
House now takes it up. We will improve the safety of our system
as we fully implement the authorizing legislation of TEA-21
dealing with surface transportation and AIR-21 dealing with air
transportation matters, both record-level investments not only
in safety but also in our transportation system across the
Again, the record is impressive. Highway death and injury
rates are at the lowest level ever, and commercial aircraft
fatality accident rates are again going down, and going even
lower as we make commitments to an 80-percent reduction over
the next 10 years. Alcohol-related fatalities are at an all-
time low; boating fatalities and rail/highway grade crossing
fatalities have been reduced as well. Natural gas transmission
pipeline failures have been reduced, but will be reduced even
more so as we pass the pipeline safety legislation, and serious
hazardous material transportation incidents have been reduced
as well. Overall, our transportation system is the safest it
has ever been.
Having said that, though, and acknowledging the work of
NHTSA and others who have worked hard with you to bring those
reductions into being, when we consider what Senator Frist said
about his dear friend, and we reflect soberly and somberly on
the issue that brings us together, we acknowledge that we must
do better, and we have to do better in making our system even
All of you have noted that this can be done through a
thorough investigation of the recall issues. That is now before
us. Also benefiting from the lessons learned as a result of
this experience, and then acting proactively, we can provide
proactive leadership to provide corrective measures, and to
enhance the safety program to ensure that this never, ever
That is a commitment that we share with you, Mr. Chairman,
Senator Hollings, and all of the members of this committee. In
addressing you today, then, I want to acknowledge the effort,
the serious and forthright effort of NHTSA under the leadership
of Administrator Bailey, that they are making to address the
investigation and the recall of Firestone ATX and ATX-II and
Wilderness AT tires. We also continue to broaden the
investigation where necessary, as we did a few weeks ago, with
the consumer advisory dealing with another series of tires as
it relates to this ongoing investigation.
Dr. Bailey has submitted a statement for the record in
which she provides the status of the investigation as it is
today. The investigation is continuing, and is continuing on an
urgent basis. I have directed the agency to use every means
available to conclude the investigation as soon as possible,
and to that end I would like to just note for the benefit of
the committee that we are reprogramming approximately $1.8
million of our fiscal year 2001 funding to the Firestone
investigation from other NHTSA activities, and we will continue
to do whatever is necessary.
Mr. Chairman, you mentioned that you wrote me on August 14
to ask that we, quote, review and examine the data collection
reporting system used by NHTSA to detect defects, close quote.
Today, I would like to note that we have done just that, and
then outline a series of legislative actions that I believe we
can take. Again, I want to underscore the fact that we are
pleased to hear that you and Senator Hollings and other members
of the committee have talked and believe that we can move on
this matter and do so expeditiously.
Before I do, though, let me urge the members, as you have
already acknowledged, to deal with the provision in the
appropriations bill as you have expressed. If I may also, Mr.
Chairman, I would also like the conferees to be supportive of
the .08 BAC provision in the appropriations bill, and also to
work with us to remove the provision that would limit us in our
efforts to move forward on the hours of service provision so as
to correct measures or laws that have been in place for more
than 60 years. Clearly, the trucking industry has changed
tremendously over that period of time.
But in dealing specifically with the issue at hand, at the
top of our list would be a comprehensive bill that we will talk
about in greater detail, but that you and I had some
communication on back in March of this year, to increase civil
penalties for defective noncomplying products, to extend the
period within which manufacturers must provide a remedy at no
cost to customers, and to require manufacturers to test their
products as a basis for their certification of compliance. We
hope that it will be possible again to move, as you have noted,
this important legislation on an urgent basis. Its provisions
will advance the cause of safety.
We would also resubmit our March proposal as part of a
larger bill that builds on the lessons, frankly, that we have
learned as a result of the Firestone investigation. It is clear
that the scope of NHTSA's efforts to obtain data about
potential safety defects needs to be broadened, and here before
the committee and manufacturers we would like to say that as
you make requests for information we, too, would like the
companies to present us the same information at the same time.
Again, though, it is clear that the scope of NHTSA's
efforts to obtain data about potential safety defects needs to
be broadened. To this end, NHTSA needs stronger investigative
authority to get the data it needs. Armed with this authority,
NHTSA will be in a position to act more quickly in exercising
its full authority in dealing with challenges like the one we
We would ask the Congress to move expeditiously in
providing this new authority, and to give the agency the tools
it needs to forge ahead. Our legislative proposal will require
manufacturers to report information about potential defects in
vehicles or equipment that first come to light, even if that
might be in foreign countries if that information relates to,
in any way, vehicles or equipment in the United States.
Due to the lack of this requirement, we did not learn about
the problems Ford and Firestone were having in Saudi Arabia and
other countries until after we opened our own investigation in
May of this year. This provision, we believe if enacted will
ensure that this kind of situation never happens again.
In the international context, our proposal will seek
greater authority to obtain information from foreign
governments and organizations concerning possible safety
defects that could show up in the United States. We believe
that greater interaction with foreign safety agencies will help
us get an early warning on problems before they occur, and I
would just mention in passing that as we work with our
international partners, as we will at an upcoming international
transportation safety symposium, on matters dealing with all
aspects of transportation, we believe that we can put in place
the kinds of relationships that will allow us to really fully
implement this kind of authority, once given.
Conversely, we believe that by having this kind of
information, we would also be able to provide useful insights
to foreign governments if they find themselves in similar
Our new proposal also will seek to close a number of
loopholes in our ability to get timely information from
manufacturers and other resources about possible defects. We
should have full authority to get safety information from
manufacturers about their claims experience, as well as
warranty and adjustment data.
We need the same type of information from companies that
supply original equipment such as brake systems and the like to
the vehicle manufacturers, and we need to get timely
information about claims information from the insurance
industry as well. Our bill will seek authority from all of
these parties on each of these measures.
And then I know Senator Bryan also made reference to
removing the ceiling on penalties. Our bill will also provide
that, Senator, as well.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, we will seek additional funding for
NHTSA's safety enforcement program. The Office of Defects
Investigation needs to have additional resources both in
funding and in people, and we will ask the Congress to provide
that amount of resources. We will immediately reprogram, as I
have noted, $1.8 million in fiscal year 2001 funding to provide
more focus on the Firestone investigation, and we will redirect
these funds from other NHTSA programs. We do that because we
know it is the right thing to do.
I know that several Members of Congress have either
introduced legislation or are considering introducing
legislation. We welcome these initiatives, as well as your own,
Mr. Chairman, and look forward to working with you and other
members of the committee to ensure the enactment of effective
legislation that will strengthen highway safety.
I believe that this legislation will give us the expanded
authority we need. I pledge that as long as I am Secretary of
Transportation we will do everything we can in our power and
working with others to use this authority and our existing
authority vigorously. My constant message to the employees at
the Department of Transportation is that we must be ever
visionary and vigilant. We are committed to that end. I can
think of no clearer case in which this message must be
fulfilled than the one that brings us together here today. We
must look to the future to guard against any repetition of the
tragedies caused by defective vehicles or equipment.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. Dr. Bailey and I
would be pleased to respond to any questions you or members of
the committee might have.
[The prepared statements of Secretary Slater and Dr. Bailey
Prepared Statement of Hon. Rodney E. Slater, Secretary,
U.S. Department of Transportation
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for holding this important full Committee hearing. To
begin, I want to emphasize the importance of safety to the Department
of Transportation. It is our top transportation priority. It is the
North Star by which we are guided and willing to be judged. I want to
commend you for your leadership, Mr. Chairman, and that of other
Mr. Chairman, almost four years ago when I appeared before this
Committee at my confirmation hearing, I pledged to you that I would
continue to make safety and security the highest priority of the
Department. I promised to strive to raise our current levels of safety
to even greater heights. In closing, I want to highlight some of the
major accomplishments that this Committee, in particular, was
instrumental in helping to achieve. The record is impressive:
Highway death and injury rates have dropped to all-time
lows: from 1.6 to 1.5 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles
traveled; and from 133 to 119 injuries per 100 million vehicle
Commercial aircraft fatal accident rate reduced from 0.055
to 0.04 per 100,000 flight hours
Alcohol-related highway fatalities reduced to 38% from 38.6%
as a percentage of the total
Boating fatalities reduced from 857 per year to 773
Rail related fatalities per million train-miles reduced from
1.57 to 1.30
Natural gas transmission pipeline failures reduced from
4,871 per year to 3,754
Serious hazardous material transportation incidents reduced
from 422 per year to 341.
In addressing you today, I want to acknowledge the outstanding
effort that NHTSA, under the leadership of Administrator Dr. Sue
Bailey, is making to address the investigation and recall of Firestone
ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires. Dr. Bailey has submitted a
statement for the record, in which she provides the status of the
investigation as of today. The investigation is continuing on an urgent
basis. I have directed the agency to use every means available to
conclude the investigation within six months. Dr. Bailey is available
to respond to any questions you may have on the history and progress of
Mr. Chairman, you wrote me on August 14 to ask that we ``review and
examine the data collection reporting system used by NHTSA to detect
defects.'' Today I will outline a series of legislative actions that I
believe we need to take. But before doing so, I want to urge members of
this Committee, especially those who will serve as conferees on our
appropriations bill, to strike language in the bill to effectively
block efforts to complete implementation of the consumer rollover
rating system proposed by this Department in June.
At the top of our list is the comprehensive bill that we submitted
in March of this year to increase civil penalties for defective and
noncomplying products, extend the period within which the manufacturers
must provide a remedy at no cost to consumers, and require
manufacturers to test their products as a basis for their certification
of compliance. We hope it will be possible to move this important
legislation on an urgent basis. Its provisions will advance the cause
We will resubmit our March proposal as part of a larger bill that
builds on the lessons we have learned in the Firestone investigation.
It is clear that the scope of NHTSA's efforts to obtain data about
potential safety defects needs to be broadened. To do this, NHTSA needs
stronger investigative authority to get the data it needs. Armed with
this authority, NHTSA will move quickly to exercise its authority to
the fullest extent possible. I would ask Congress to move quickly to
legislate new authority, and give the agency the tools it needs to
forge ahead quickly.
Our legislative proposal will require manufacturers to report
information about potential defects in vehicles or equipment that first
comes to light in foreign countries, if that information relates in any
way to vehicles or equipment in the United States. Due to the lack of
this requirement, we did not learn of the problems Ford and Firestone
were having in Saudi Arabia and other countries until after we had
opened our own investigation in May of this year. If this provision is
enacted, we can ensure that this will not happen again.
In the international context, our proposal will seek greater
authority to seek and obtain information from foreign governments and
organizations concerning possible safety defects that could show up in
the United States. We will believe that greater interaction with
foreign safety agencies will help us get an early warning of problems
before they occur here. Conversely, we could provide useful information
to foreign governments, if they find themselves in a similar situation.
Our new proposal will also seek to close a number of loopholes in
our ability to get timely information from manufacturers and other
sources about possible defects. We should have full authority to get
safety information from manufacturers about their claims experience, as
well as warranty and adjustment data. We need the same type of
information from the companies who supply original equipment, such as
braking systems, to the vehicle manufacturers. And we need to get
timely information about claims information from the insurance
industry. Our bill will seek authority for each of these measures. It
will also seek to remove the ceiling on penalties for related
Finally, Mr. Chairman, we will seek additional funding for NHTSA's
safety enforcement program. The Office of Defect Investigation needs to
have additional resources, both in funding and in people, and we will
ask the Congress to provide it. We will immediately reprogram $1.8
million of FY 2001 funding to the Firestone investigation from other
I know that several members of Congress have either introduced
legislation or are considering introducing legislation. We welcome
these initiatives, as well as yours, Mr. Chairman, and want to work
together to secure the enactment of effective legislation that will
strengthen highway safety.
I believe that this legislation will give us the expanded authority
that we need. I pledge that as long as I am Secretary, we will do
everything in our power to use this authority, and our existing
authority, vigorously. My constant message to Departmental staff is
that we must be vigilant and visionary. I can think of no clearer case
in which this message must be heard: we must look to the future and
guard against any repetition of tragedies caused by defective vehicles
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. Dr. Bailey and I will be
glad to answer your questions.
Prepared Statement of Dr. Sue Bailey, Administrator, National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am pleased to appear before you this morning to address the
investigation and recall of Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT
tires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has
learned some valuable lessons from this recall, and now is the time to
put those lessons to use in preventing future problems.
Secretary Slater has outlined the legislation that we believe we
need. I will discuss what I believe we must do to improve our
regulations and our internal procedures. First, let me summarize where
we now are in the Firestone investigation.
The Firestone ATX/Wilderness Recall
Firestone originally began producing the tires under investigation
in 1991. By the end of 1999, approximately 47 million had been
produced. By that time, NHTSA had received 46 reports scattered over 9
years about incidents involving these tires. The tires were on a
variety of vehicles, primarily on Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles.
In view of the large number of tires that had been produced, the
variety of possible causes of tire failure (road hazards, excessive
wear, etc.), and the fact that all types of tires can fail in use, the
reports that we received did not indicate a problem that would warrant
opening a defect investigation regarding these tires. The informal
submission by State Farm in 1998 of 21 claims over an eight-year period
also did not provide such an indication.
The situation changed rapidly following the airing of a news story
by KHOU in Houston on February 7, 2000, that dramatized the question of
the tires' safety. In addition to highlighting two fatalities, the KHOU
story alluded to a number of other crashes and fatalities.
Upon learning of the KHOU story, we contacted the station to obtain
more details about the incidents. They have not given us the
information we requested, but the growing publicity generated other
reports to us, including several provided by other media outlets and by
plaintiffs' attorneys. Over the next few weeks, we were able to verify
many of these reports. We opened a Preliminary Evaluation on May 2. At
that time, the agency was aware of 90 complaints, including reports of
33 crashes, and 4 fatalities. On May 8 and 10, we sent Ford and
Firestone extensive Information Requests asking for information about
the tires. At that point NHTSA began a constant communication with both
companies, which continues today.
Information accumulated rapidly as a result of the investigation
and attendant publicity. By August 1, we had 193 complaints alleging
tread separations on these tires, with 21 reported fatalities. In a
meeting on August 4, we suggested that Firestone consider recalling the
tires. By August 9, when Firestone announced that it was recalling the
ATX and ATX II tires, and Wilderness AT tires produced at its Decatur,
Illinois, plant, we had over 300 complaints, with 46 reported
fatalities. The number has continued to grow. As of August 31 we had
1400 complaints with reports of 88 fatalities and 250 injuries
involving the tires covered by the investigation. We will provide
information about additional incidents as we collect it.
Firestone has recalled all of the ATX and ATX II tires of the P235/
75R15 size manufactured since 1991. It has also recalled Wilderness AT
tires of that size made at its Decatur, Illinois, plant, for a total of
14.4 million tires out of the 47 million tires covered by our
investigation. As of August 9, Firestone estimated that approximately
6.5 million of the 14.4 million tires included in the recall were still
on the road. Ford and Firestone are taking a number of measures to
provide replacement tires.
NHTSA is continuing its investigation to ensure that the scope of
the recall is proper and that all unsafe tires are recalled. At our
request, Firestone and Ford have given us voluminous information about
the tires, and we have sent follow up requests for additional
information to both companies and to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company,
for a peer comparison. We are continuing to monitor the recall to
ensure that all defective tires are replaced promptly.
Our review of data from Firestone has already disclosed that other
tire models and sizes of the tires under investigation have rates of
tread separation as high or higher than the tires that Firestone is
recalling. On August 30, we recommended to Firestone that it expand its
recall to include these tires. When Firestone declined to expand the
recall, we issued a consumer advisory on September 1 to advise owners
of these tires to take actions to assure their safety.
As Secretary Slater stated in his opening remarks, we have
concluded that we need to get additional legislative authority to
enable us to learn of defects that first appear in vehicles or
equipment in foreign countries. Such authority could have enabled us to
learn of the problems being experienced by Ford and Firestone sooner
than we did. If we get the additional authority, I assure you that we
will work vigorously to use it.
We have also learned that we can do a better job of using the
authority that we already have. In particular, we must accelerate our
efforts to bring NHTSA's tire safety standard into line with current
practice. We are expanding our review of the standard, which has not
been significantly changed since 1968. The vehicles on the road today
are much different than those of 30 years ago and are operated at
higher speeds now that the national maximum speed limit has ended. We
need to amend the standard to address those changes.
A number of claims, and several law suits, had been filed against
Ford and Firestone before we became aware of any trend that would
indicate a potential defect. We received no information about those
events from the companies or from the plaintiffs' attorneys. Our
current regulations do not require the manufacturers to give us
information about claims or litigation. The existing law gives us broad
authority to seek information from vehicle and equipment manufacturers
during the course of an investigation. We plan to implement measures
that would allow us to track claims and litigation information
routinely, even as we are asking Congress to enhance our authority to
get this information.
We will also continue our efforts to provide information to
consumers about vehicle stability. It seems clear that the failure of
these tires presents a greater risk to occupants of sport utility
vehicles and compact pickups, with their greater susceptibility to
rollover, than to occupants of passenger cars. We are urging the
conferees on our appropriations bill for fiscal year 2001 to allow us
to complete our implementation of the consumer rollover rating system
proposed in June without delay.
Finally, we are taking a hard look at our investigative procedures
to make sure we do not miss problems like this in the future. We will
ensure that we use our people and resources in the most effective way
and seek any additional resources that we may need.
Mr. Chairman, I want to assure you that this investigation is the
highest priority in NHTSA. We will remain focused on the investigation,
closely monitor the current recall campaign, and seek any expansion of
the campaign that may be necessary.
Mr. Chairman, I want to conclude by expressing my thanks to you for
holding this hearing. I will be glad to answer any questions you may
The Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for your
In a departure from the usual custom of the committee,
because of the importance of this issue, two members have
arrived who might want to make brief opening comments, Senator
Ashcroft and then Senator Rockefeller.
Senator Rockefeller does not. Senator Ashcroft, would you
like to make a brief comment?
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN ASHCROFT,
U.S. SENATOR FROM MISSOURI
Senator Ashcroft. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am grateful
for this opportunity. I am very concerned, as is everyone on
the committee, about how this could have happened. I am
saddened, as we all are, by the deaths that bring us to this
point. Each of the individuals injured has a name and a face.
They had dreams that will not be realized, those that have
died, and you do them a great service by calling the meeting
I have a unique concern, and that is that the Ford Explorer
is made in my home State. In fact, almost half the Ford
Explorers that are assembled in the United States are made in
Hazelwood, Missouri, and the success of the Explorer has been a
source of pride for the workers at the plant and everyone
throughout the St. Louis area and, of course, if you are ever
in doubt about this, I would be pleased to take you to the
plant and we will watch as they drive newly assembled Explorers
off the line.
Yesterday, I talked with some of the workers. As you know,
the plant has been closed for the past 2 weeks, and will not
reopen to assemble the popular Ford Explorer until next Monday,
and some have suggested that these workers have it pretty well.
2,000 workers who are not reporting for work are getting paid
95 percent of their income.
Well, I want you to know that they are not content with not
working, and they do not see themselves as lucky. They are
unsure about their future. Obviously, they do not get overtime,
which they normally get, and due to the 15,000 Explorers that
will not be produced their profit-sharing is threatened.
Nevertheless, I want you to know that these workers did not
complain about Ford's decision to close the plant in order to
get tires out to consumers as quickly as possible. In fact, I
was really inspired by the way the employees had a sense of
being proud that the company was willing to take very serious
measures to serve the customers.
And since they are not represented here today, I asked
these employees to tell me what message they wanted me to give
you and, while they could say it much better than I can, I will
do my best. They want you to know that what we do here and what
we say here makes a difference, and this applies not just to
the committee but also to representatives of Ford, Firestone,
NHTSA, and the consumer groups, and it makes a difference in
They do not want careless or reckless allegations about the
product that they make. They have valid concerns that
allegations that are tossed out even if they do not have data
devalues the name of the product that bears not only the Ford
name but also the name of the 2,000 workers in Missouri, and
they wanted me to share with you the Ford Explorer safety
record, which remains substantially above average, and they
faxed to my office safety information filed by the United
States Department of Transportation, and they asked me to
submit this information for the record, and I am pleased to do
* The information referred to was not available at the time this
hearing went to press.
The Chairman. Without objection.
Senator Ashcroft. Thank you. Just as the rest of the
committee, as chairman of the Consumer Affairs Subcommittee I
want to know what I can do to make sure this never happens
again. I want to thank you for holding this hearing, and I am
pleased to be a part of these matters of inquiry.
The Chairman. Thank you very much. We will have a first
round of 4 minutes, and obviously my colleagues would
understand, since we have four more witnesses to appear before
the committee and it is already 10:30, and so I will begin by
thanking you again, Secretary Slater.
Secretary Slater, some questions have arisen about
sufficient funding for NHTSA. In the past several years I never
heard of any request for additional funding or authorization
for additional funding to this committee. Did that happen, to
Secretary Slater. Mr. Chairman, we have actually provided,
in partnership with the committee and the Congress, significant
improvements in the NHTSA budget over the years. The
President's recommendation this year is higher than either the
House or the Senate.
The Chairman. I was talking about previous years.
Secretary Slater. In previous years we have also provided
an increase in investment, and when we passed TEA-21 again an
increase in investment. We did last year because we were trying
to use some of what were called RABA funds for the greater
investment in safety programs, did not find our efforts
successful, but over the years we have done, I think, a good
job in giving NHTSA the kinds of resources needed.
Now, clearly, as we deal with matters involving defects and
the investigations necessary to fully respond to those, we have
found a need to reprogram and to make an additional request in
this budget cycle, but I think that working with the committee
in past years we have done a good job in providing significant
resources to NHTSA for their broad safety purposes, and we have
seen significant benefits result from that kind of a
The Chairman. At the end of every year around here, we have
the President pretty much having his way and billions and
billions of dollars are added in the dead of the night, I might
add, and I would expect that if there had been any real
priority there would have been some of that added.
Joan Claybrook is going to testify, and in her statement
she says NHTSA failed to discover this defect because it lacked
a proactive program to discover safety defects. She goes on to
state, NHTSA was caught flat-footed in this case because it
rarely pushes companies to obey the law. The Department allowed
GM to resist recalling its 5 million defectively designed 1973
to 1987 pickup trucks with side-saddle gas tanks that exploded
in side-impact crashes, and goes on to state several examples
in the past.
She goes on to say, NHTSA also has no early warning system
in place, and has not been proactive in requiring manufacturer
warnings or in using sources of information that are on the
pulse-beat of current real world information about vehicle
I do not know if you have seen her testimony or not, but I
would like for either you or Ms. Bailey to respond to those
allegations by Joan Claybrook.
Secretary Slater. Well, I would ask Dr. Bailey to join me
in responding, but I can tell you that NHTSA has been very
aggressive in dealing with matters that pertain to frankly
working with the industry and educating the public about
important safety measures that could be taken. We have seen
significant results from that effort.
I would just give you a few. The use of seat belts, the
significant investment of time and resources dealing with
educating the public about drunk driving and those sorts of
things that have brought about a significant reduction in
deaths on our roadways.
We have also over the years made significant improvements
in the performance and the safety of automobiles and equipment.
Now, clearly here with the challenge of the Firestone tires
and the question involving SUV's and their roll-over
tendencies, we have come forward recently with major
initiatives to deal with those efforts as well, and with the
enhanced program authority that we have made the case for this
morning we will be able to bring more focus and attention to
these matters, but we have not had a defect to deal with in
anyway like this one for more than 20 years.
Now that we have it, we are moving to ensure that measures
that were attempted in 1978, when a similar issue arose, that
those measures are taken this time, and again I want to commend
you, Mr. Chairman and also Senator Hollings, as you have noted
your belief that this time we can get the job done, and as an
Administration we want to work with you to do just that.
The Chairman. Ms. Bailey, did you want to respond?
Dr. Bailey. I think that we may have indicated that much of
the information we receive is through consumer complaints. We
have a very proactive educational program to try, and increase
and, in fact, have increased by thousands per year the number
of complaints we get, but it is not enough.
Clearly there was information out there that was not
received by NHTSA through that channel. So we are seeking
authority to widen our ability to obtain data that could allow
us to investigate earlier and be more proactive, specifically
the authority you will hear about here, today, not to request,
but to require that manufacturers provide us with information
from overseas, which in this case could have been instrumental
in initiating an investigation sooner, and also here
domestically, that we receive information from manufacturers
about claims and settlements, which would also have provided us
with information that would have instigated a sooner
The Chairman. Senator Hollings.
Senator Hollings. Thank you both. Though you say you have
not dealt with a defect of this kind, or known of it, in 20
years, and otherwise you did not receive the information, now,
there are two reports in the news with respect to one, filing
the information that you had, not 20 years ago but more
recently, tire defects under Ford, the automobile itself.
And otherwise, there was, if I remember, Beretsky, who said
that in 1998 there were only six or seven complaints, in 1999
only eight, whereby now that you are going back and looking,
instead of seven there were 76, and instead of eight there were
96 complaints, 47 before the report. Are those reports in the
news correct, and what have you done about it?
Secretary Slater. One of the things about some of the news
reports, again they deal with information that we have in some
instances requested. They are not yet received. That is why I
made the point earlier that one thing we want to do today is to
say that as the committee and its team receive information
through your investigative efforts, that at the same time the
companies provide us with the same information along with,
again, following through on the request that we are making.
Senator Hollings. Well, this information is in your files,
as I understand it. There have been these complaints there, and
misfiled under the automobile instead of tires in the one
instance, but otherwise 90-some complaints, where the gentleman
is saying we only had eight, in his memo. I mean, what about
Secretary Slater. I agree with that. I want to come back
with that, because I think this morning was the first time that
we had had notice of some of that, but let me just say that
once we started to get the information that was clearly
available that we had not gotten earlier, we were able to give
a more accurate statement about the degree of the problem.
We were able to raise to 88 the number of deaths, we were
able to deal with the 250 or so injuries, but again that was
after we got the information we could fully examine and make
judgments on. That also led us to making, through our broader
investigation, the request for a voluntary recall on some
additional series of tires. When that was not done, then we
came back with our powers and provided a consumer advisory, so
we have responded when we have had the information at our
Now, again, I would like to ask Dr. Bailey to share with
you what she shared with me earlier today about the most recent
report we saw this morning, and that you had made reference to.
Dr. Bailey. I believe you are aware that in Arizona, in
1996, apparently there was information about tread separations
and blow-outs that was available to Firestone but was not made
available to NHTSA. Again, part of our not having been as
proactive in the past is, we have not had the regulatory
authority to be proactive. We would like to see that changed in
the future, and that is part of the work I think we are doing
Specifically, the Secretary is referring to the fact we did
not have the information in 1996. But I think it is important
to note that after this investigation was begun in May of this
year, we did request information from Firestone about any
claims, testing, specifically testing as was done in the
situation in Arizona. That could have been information that
would have been important in terms of this investigation.
I will tell you that we have still not received that
information, and we went through that looking for specifically
the information about the Arizona testing and have still not
received that. So we will be looking into that.
Senator Hollings. Mr. Secretary, just one question.
Firestone is a hard learner. They were caught off base 20 years
ago, and now here they are in trouble all over again, but I
wonder about Bridgestone. The Japanese are known for quality
production. Is there a similar National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration in Japan, in Tokyo? Do they have a similar
agency looking at safety and defects reported? I am wondering
about Bridgestone. If I ran Bridgestone I would get rid of
Firestone, and I am wondering about Bridgestone itself. Do they
have it? What is their record?
I notice one Japanese company that had been keeping secret
defects some 20 or 30 years just apologized in the news, but
what about Bridgestone? Do you know anything about them at all?
Do the Japanese have such a situation or not?
Secretary Slater. We have safety counterparts in most
countries. The agency responsible for vehicle safety in Japan
is the Ministry of Transport. I think it is important to note
part of the expansion of our authority today would be to allow
us to engage internationally with our safety counterparts which
are present in most countries, so that we can exchange this
type of information.
Senator Hollings. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you. Senator Abraham.
Senator Abraham. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just
follow up on the request, I gather, that will be forthcoming in
your legislation with respect to dealing with foreign agencies
that work on safety issues. Am I to understand that you are
prohibited from interacting with them at this point?
Secretary Slater. No, we are not necessarily prohibited
from interacting with them. Actually, I am in communication
with my transportation counterparts all the time. It is just
that the enhanced authority would clearly give us the ability
to do so in a more constructive way.
Also, when it comes to getting information, how about the
performance of certain items internationally? We do not have
the authority to require that from manufacturers now, and that
Senator Abraham. That I understand, Mr. Secretary, and I am
happy we will be working on that issue, because clearly you do
not have access to information from the manufacturers.
The question I guess I am trying to get at is, it seems to
me that at least the people who work in NHTSA on safety issues
would be monitoring to some extent what is going on in other
countries, just as a matter of course, and I guess I have heard
today what sounded like an indication that somehow you either
are prohibited from doing it or cannot do it and, given the
magnitude of some of these recalls, I guess I am wondering why
no information, not from the companies here but just from the
media or from the international conferences or from other kinds
of activities that you might engage in as a part of your job,
this information would not have been detected by at least the
people who work on safety issues, and I would like to know why
that is the case.
Secretary Slater. Well, I can tell you that most of our
international activities across the Department have increased
significantly over the last few years, as we have begun to
recognize to a greater degree the challenges of a global
economy and market, and we are doing a much better job in that
arena now than in the past, and that is across the various
transportation modes. Dr. Bailey, is there anything specific
about NHTSA's work in that regard that might deal more
specifically with Senator Abraham's question?
Dr. Bailey. It is, I would want to characterize it, as more
informal, clearly, than it should be. We need clear regulatory
cooperation between countries, and that is not the case now,
but it is what we are looking for. Obviously, it would be
beneficial to exchange this type of essential safety
The provision would also authorize the Secretary to
reciprocate cooperation received from the regulatory
authorities in those other countries, and it would require that
special measures be taken, because you can imagine for trade
this is a real issue, to protect any confidential commercial
information and nonpublic predecisional materials be disclosed
to or received from a foreign Government in furtherance of
regulatory cooperation, and it is modeled on the Food & Drug
Administration, 21 C.F.R.
Senator Abraham. Thank you. I think my assumption is the
committee is going to be very receptive to try and formalize
the ability to collect information or to exchange it.
I chair a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee on
Immigration, and while we do not have any, to my knowledge,
formal responsibility or authority to find out what is
happening with respect to immigration policies in other
countries, I only have two people on that staff, but they keep
pretty close tabs on what is happening in other countries, and
I guess it is a little bit of a surprise that none of this
information was known to anybody at NHTSA, in light of the
magnitude of it.
Let me just ask another question. In the House hearings
last week it was revealed that a claims researcher for State
Farm Insurance Company contacted NHTSA on three separate
occasions between July 1998 and December 1999 to discuss
concerns about these tires and the related accidents, and my
first impression when I heard about it was, this is some sort
of call that maybe was made out of the blue to a hotline, or
something like that.
But the State Farm witness' testimony indicated the
following. They said most of the data that was provided to
NHTSA was--this is an exact quote--was in response to a request
from the agency. On occasion, however, we advised NHTSA of
potential claims trends being reported from our field offices.
The decision to initiate a contact with NHTSA is based on a
number of factors, including whether research of our
information reveals a number of similar reports or cases with
possible safety implications, a particular vehicle model within
a specific period of time.
We are in regular communication with NHTSA by e-mail and
telephone on a wide range of related issues. In a year we share
information on approximately 150 investigations.
So it seems that the actual fact is that State Farm works
regularly with you in terms of this kind of information
exchange, examining crash data and supplying you periodically
at least with information and tips about potential problems, so
I am just wondering what your response is to the fact that this
information was provided on three separate occasions. How do
you explain the lack of followup? Is there a particular reason
that no additional action was taken at the time of these
reports, or did they not rise to a certain level of relevance?
How do you do that, and what should we know about that as we
Dr. Bailey. First, the important part of the question is
that in fact those 21 claims were over 6 years, so we were
getting several claims per year, while they were getting
hundreds, or we were getting hundreds of complaints about other
tires. And so put into perspective those 21 would still not
have instigated the investigation at that time.
Now, let me also say it was part of an informal
arrangement, or a relationship with State Farm. It is the only
relationship we have with an insurance company. I would like to
see us in the future formalize relationships with not only
State Farm but others, so it does not come in in the way it did
this time, which, by the way, was unsolicited, and by e-mail.
And there is only one contact that is recalled at this time,
and this was 2 years ago, and we were receiving hundreds of
those sometimes in a week.
I have personally seen the e-mail. The e-mail said, quote-
unquote, we have ``noticed'' these claims. I went over the
material, and we have since gone over that material. It would
not have instigated, as I say, an investigation at that time,
given the number over the years, when 40 million tires had been
Senator Abraham. The only followup I just want to finish
with is this. My impression is that what triggered NHTSA's
greatest scrutiny most recently was the reports of a Houston
television station investigation. Was that a key element in
your decisions here to now press forward?
Dr. Bailey. It was a key element, because if you remember,
much of our work is done based on the complaints we get from
consumers. Those complaints doubled after that KHOU hearing,
and that was what created in March the impetus for us
immediately to start an initial assessment and then begin the
investigation in May, which I believe prompted the recall in
Senator Abraham. I would only say, obviously, we will want
to follow up with written questions, but I am a little bit
concerned that people who do this professionally in terms of
claim adjustments at State Farm and work with you on a
semiformal basis did not get the kind of attention that a TV
report did, and I guess that troubles me to some extent, but we
look forward to finding out more from you as we proceed through
I have gone over my time. I apologize, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Senator Bryan.
Senator Bryan. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I have several questions, and I realize that we are on a
short time constraint so, if possible, if I can get a yes or no
answer to my question, I would be appreciative.
We are told that, adjusted for inflation, that NHTSA's
budget today with respect to enforcement is about half of what
it was two decades ago, and that only 20 investigators are in
the field that are engineers that are looking into vehicle
safety defects. My first question, is that true, and if so,
what are your budget recommendations for us in light of our
experience with Firestone and Ford?
Secretary Slater. Well, the answer is, for the most part
true. We have again seen increases over the past 3 or 4 years,
and that has been good, but we do need to have additional
resources here, and the President's budget, our proposal, would
provide significantly more resources.
Senator Bryan. And you are satisfied, Mr. Secretary, the
President's budget request is enough to do the job?
Secretary Slater. We are. Now, we also are going to submit
for consideration a request for an additional $9 million that
would be used primarily to help us deal with the current
challenge of the Firestone recall. We have already reallocated
$1.8 million to expedite that process, and we are going to make
a request for an additional $9 million.
Senator Bryan. I thank you for the brevity of your
response. You are indicating the President's budget request
plus $9 million is what you are asking?
Secretary Slater. No. The $9 million would be included, but
what we do is, we actually reprioritize some of the resources
for this particular purpose.
Senator Bryan. I think I understand. So you are saying you
think that the President's budget request, with this
reprioritizing, is adequate to do the job?
Secretary Slater. Yes.
Senator Bryan. I do not believe I heard an answer to the
distinguished Ranking Member's question about the data base.
What we are led to believe is that the agency failed to detect
early on some of these complaints because there is a different
data base for tires and a different data base for automobiles.
Can you tell me, is that true, and if it is, what are you doing
to merge those data bases so we do not have a similar problem?
Dr. Bailey. I think it is important to note, again, to keep
this in perspective, that even with the State Farm data which
was filed, by the way, and which I have at my disposal, and
with the 46 complaints we received over almost a decade, out of
47 million tires, even combined that would not have instigated
an earlier investigation.
Senator Bryan. Are you saying, Dr. Bailey, that even if the
merged data base, if the data base had been merged or combined,
that still would not have been enough to trigger----
Dr. Bailey. Correct, because that would have been probably
less than 10 a year, while we were getting hundreds of
complaints about other tires, so it probably would have not
caused the investigation.
What would have caused the investigation was to have
information from overseas, and all of that claims data that was
out there, and that is what we are seeking here today, and what
can remedy this.
Let me just answer your question about the information
system, because you are right, we have, as is often the case,
in corporations, and around the world, as we have come into a
computerized era, that we have stovepipes of systems. We need
the additional funding to coordinate and integrate those
systems so that we can bring all that data together that we are
seeking here today for the future.
Senator Bryan. And Dr. Bailey, does the President's budget
provide sufficient money for you to merge the data bases, or
consolidate them in some way, that it provides an earlier trip
warning system? I take it for the record the answer is yes.
Dr. Bailey. The answer is yes.
Senator Bryan. I thank you.
Now let me go over some of the recommendations that have
been made. One of the criticisms is that the tire safety
standard itself is 32 years old, at a time when many tires in
America were bias ply, not radials. Radials last longer than
bias ply, and it has been suggested that the safety standard
needs to be changed with respect to radial tires.
My question is, 1) do you agree it needs to be changed, and
2) where are we in that process?
Dr. Bailey. It is an old standard. It needs to be changed.
We are in the process. We are in fact looking to the
manufacturers to give us their input on that. In October, next
month, we are moving ahead with that, and clearly need to
update those standards.
Senator Bryan. So that process is moving forward, and you
will have a sufficient budget to move forward in that process,
is that correct?
Dr. Bailey. Yes, sir, with the additions.
Senator Bryan. Finally, your comments with respect to the
suggestion we ought to increase civil penalties. We ought to
increase the statute of limitations, require record retention
for longer periods of time--there is a whole series of these
you are familiar with. Do you agree with those and, if so, are
they going to be included in the letter you will be sending to
our chairman, who I will be looking forward to working with and
supporting bipartisan legislation?
Secretary Slater. That is correct, Senator. You should know
that those recommendations and components of the bill were
actually put together through leadership and advice on the part
Senator Bryan. And is it possible for each of us as members
of the committee to have access to that letter?
Secretary Slater. Yes.
Senator Bryan. We do look forward to working with the
Mr. Chairman, my time has expired. I thank our panel for
their responses, and again thank you for your leadership.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Bryan.
Senator Burns. Mr. Chairman, I have questions for the next
panel. I have no questions for this one. I have a previous
engagement I have got to make at 11 o'clock, so I pass on this
one. Thank you very much.
The Chairman. Thank you. Senator Wyden.
Senator Wyden. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, and Ms. Bailey, as you heard me say earlier, my
big concern is that there may not be another committee sitting
here in 20 years going over essentially the same issues which
are not very different than the Congress looked at 20 years
before, so to that end it seems to me we have got to come up
with the right mix of preventive and enforcement policies, and
I have a question in each area.
On the preventive side, which ought to be the centerpiece
of any strategy, you all have adopted this approach where
mechanics for the Federal Aviation Administration reports
safety problems that they encounter while servicing aircraft.
What would you think of a similar approach for automobile
service requirements, tire service centers, or independent
mechanics, so that we could even get a jump start on a kind of
early warning system, rather than waiting for your
investigators to try to bring it forward? Would you all support
that kind of approach? Mr. Secretary?
Secretary Slater. Yes. Yes, and clearly here, Senator, just
in a general sense I think there are lessons to be learned as
we look across the transportation spectrum where we can
actually employ things that have been tested, procedures that
have been tested in other modes, and I think this is a fine
example of one.
I would say this, though, and hopefully there may be other
questions on this particular matter, but in order to do that it
is very important that we deal with this issue mindful of not
overly criminalizing certain actions, because in order to get
that kind of input by people at the grassroots level, the
ground level, they really have to feel free to share
information with you, and we have done that across the aviation
spectrum I think quite well, and it would be very important for
that same kind of message to be a part of this sort of approach
in this area.
Senator Wyden. I intend to work with the Chairman and
Senator Hollings on that, because it seems to me what has
worked in the FAA area could work in this area as well. That
would be the first line of a kind of preventive strategy, but
your response to me touches on the second area that I want to
go to, and that is that if there is an egregious violation, one
where a company knowingly is aware that their product is going
to cause death, or serious injury, is it reasonable to say that
in those instances a criminal penalty should apply?
Now, 20 years ago John Moss, somebody who was a real hero
of mine, said that that should have been done. We are not here
as prosecutors, as the distinguished Senator from Hawaii said
earlier. My question to you is, starting with a preventive kind
of strategy which I think ought to be the focus of our work,
and I think you are absolutely right about doing that carefully
so as to encourage people to come forward, should we say in
addition to that, for truly flagrant violations, where a
company knows that the product is going to kill or maim, is it
appropriate to have a criminal penalty, or a criminal statute
that would allow for criminal penalty in that instance?
Secretary Slater. Senator, the short answer there is
Now, after saying that, though, I would hasten to say our
approach has been to provide generally three means for
responding once your investigation reveals certain information.
One would be through an administrative civil penalty, and to do
that only after a full-fledged evidentiary hearing, probably
involving an administrative law judge. Also, a judicially
enforced civil penalty, which the NHTSA statute already
provides, and we would increase the levels of those penalties
as has been noted, at one point we were talking about up to,
like, about $4 million, but we are talking now about just
eliminating the ceiling so that you could deal with whatever
the situation would warrant.
But then beyond that, you know, as you have noted and as
you have stated, for egregious circumstances criminal penalties
would be appropriate, where it can be demonstrated beyond a
reasonable doubt that a person subject to the NHTSA motor
carrier safety requirements intentionally violated them with
Senator Wyden. I want to explore that with you, and I want
to explore that with the Chairman and Senator Hollings.
Something like this needs to be approached with great care, and
I want to make it clear that I believe that the centerpiece of
our strategy ought to be a preventive kind of approach, but I
also think that if we are talking about companies who have
knowledge of a pattern of activity that can kill and maim, that
must be treated with the strongest possible deterrent, which
would involve a criminal penalty, and I look forward to the
bipartisan approach the Chairman is going to be taking, and I
The Chairman. Dr. Frist.
Senator Frist. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As I listen to the
testimony and the discussion and the questions, it seems clear
to me that NHTSA's biggest challenge, or problem, or
deficiency, something that must be addressed, is a lack of an
ability, and it may be in part resources, and it may be
direction and leadership, but an ability to coordinate the
various data bases, the various information which does exist.
It is clear that Firestone certainly had significant
warranty claims information. Ford seemed to be aware of an
increased propensity for the Explorer to roll if those tires
were fully inflated. We talked about State Farm in their
contact with NHTSA with safety trend information that never
quite made it, and according to news reports yesterday it would
have appear the plaintiffs bar feared sounding the alarm at
NHTSA would give defendants advance opportunity to defend
themselves, lack of access to information from overseas.
With all of that as background, what will you be doing to
ensure better communication, addressing the communication of
this life-saving information?
Dr. Bailey. I think that is the essential work here today,
to increase our authority to obtain information from anywhere
in the public domain. In a global marketplace we need
information from markets outside the United States and we were
not receiving that. I think what we have missed here is the
bulk of the material that was not our authority to receive. So
we are asking this committee to work with us so that we can
obtain the authority that would have given us the opportunity
to protect Americans and save lives.
Senator Frist. Beyond the authority, and Senator Bryan
began in his questioning talking about standards outside of
information, which obviously we are going to move on
aggressively to address the authority issue internally, we
mentioned the updating standards. Could you give us several
other examples of things you are doing immediately internally
that do not require legislation to improve the communication?
Dr. Bailey. Immediately we have reassigned the staffing
patterns so we can deal with this investigation, and realigned
our resources as well. But all of that is ongoing now, and you
are hearing that we are also going to be reprogramming $1.8
million so that this investigation will be expedited.
The Secretary has been behind us 100 percent in moving this
faster than any investigation we have ever done before. But I
think the bigger question here, and what I hear you asking, is
what can we do so that we are able to be as highly efficient as
this regulatory body should be in the future. And one of the
main ones you are hearing is to have a data base that will let
us make use of this new information we will have the authority
to obtain, but also to make use of information that we have
previously had authority to obtain but was in a form that did
not necessarily provide information that gave us the full
picture. It would not change the course of events, our internal
issues surrounding information systems in this investigation.
It is the bigger picture that is the issue for the Firestone
Senator Frist. One just final followup to that from earlier
is when you said the 46 reports and 45 reports would not have
met, or the implication would not have met the threshold to
throw up a red flag, to me that suggests the triggers are going
to be quantitative and not qualitative. Are you confident that
in the sophistication of a data base that you will have
appropriate flags that go beyond just the quantitative that
might not meet the denominator, or the ratio that would,
through some algorithm would kick it out?
Dr. Bailey. As one scientist to another, let me say that we
do tend to think in terms of statistics and numbers and
percentages and formulas, and my staff has been, I think,
struggling with the fact that I have imposed that on them in
this last couple of weeks. At the same time, they have always
had in place threshold guidelines, which are good guidelines,
and we are going to continue to apply, which of course make use
of the data we are talking about here today, and those specific
numbers. But they also look at other situations, such as
catastrophic crashes and fatalities, and factor those variables
in as well, and we will continue to do so.
Senator Frist. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you.
Secretary Slater. Mr. Chairman, I think we should also
mention that we are going to use some of the additional
resources to promote our hotline and its use, and also use our
web site to provide better communication means with the broader
public, and so we are definitely going to use the power of
technology, along with our relationships with manufacturers,
with insurance companies and others to get more data, and then
streamline the process for sharing that data across not only
the various offices within NHTSA but also to a greater degree
across the Department as a whole. Dr. Bailey and NHTSA are
taking a leadership role in that regard, and the additional
resources and authority will help them in that regard.
The Chairman. Senator Inouye.
Senator Inouye. Thank you.
Dr. Bailey, you have indicated that you initiated a
preliminary evaluation on the Firestone case in February of
this year, and this was prompted by a Houston, Texas TV
Dr. Bailey. The preliminary evaluation was May 2, but yes,
the KHOU was February, and that did prompt the initial
Senator Inouye. And you have indicated that had you been
aware of some of the problems in overseas posts you would have
Dr. Bailey. Yes, sir.
Senator Inouye. Mr. Secretary, you have also indicated that
had you had better information from abroad you would have acted
Secretary Slater. That information, coupled with what we
have, would have given us more information on which to base a
decision, and we would have acted earlier, yes.
Senator Inouye. I have been here for a few years, and
during these few years administration after administration has
tried to impress upon me how effective our embassies are. Each
embassy has two very senior members, a professional defense
attache and a commercial attache, and we are very proud of
them. They feed us information of all sorts. We have better
information on the weather in the Soviet Union than we have
here, for example.
When did you first learn about the Malaysian situation?
Secretary Slater. It was only after we began our own
Senator Inouye. The commercial attache did not tell you
that Firestone and Ford got involved in some sort of activity
there in 1998?
Secretary Slater. We did not have that kind of information
before we began our own investigation.
Senator Inouye. Did the commercial attache advise your
agency that in 1999 Ford had recalled 6,800 vehicles to replace
the Firestone tires? That is big news, is it not?
Secretary Slater. Well, it should be, but again we just did
not have the information.
Senator Inouye. The State Department did not pick up the
phone and tell you that we have got problems in Saudi Arabia?
What about Venezuela? Did the embassy there communicate with
you, or the State Department?
Secretary Slater. No. We found out about the recalls
Senator Inouye. This is supposed to be the age of
information technology, and we are not getting this. Where is
the e-mail, and you have got a letter and all of that business.
Secretary Slater. I think, Senator, actually what we are
now doing as a Department, is reaching out to our counterparts
across the globe and really strengthening our own
communications, where we recognize that transportation does not
end at the border's edge, but that it is now international in
its reach, it is the tie that binds. We have clearly moved from
a period where an interstate tied cities and communities of our
Nation together to a point now where the waterways and the
airways, and in some instances in the hemisphere railroads are
tying this country together with other countries in the world,
and we have to be more concerned than we have been in the past
about how that is impacting all of our countries, and how we
have to share information.
Quite frankly, we have not been as focused on this kind of
issue as we are now. We as a Department have recently held
internationally the Asian meetings with all of our counterparts
in Chicago just at the end of last year, with Africa. We have
traveled much more extensively.
I just think more recently we have given more focus to this
kind of issue and these kinds of challenges, and that is why we
have made specific provision in a more comprehensive bill that
deals with how it can better enhance the communication flows
with our counterparts around the world, and that is what we are
trying to achieve here, something that has never been a matter
of utmost consideration, but it is now.
Senator Inouye. Mr. Chairman, I would like to receive some
word from the State Department as to whether they knew about
The Chairman. I think Senator Hollings and I would like to
join you in a formal inquiry on that issue.
Senator Hollings. And the Commerce Department. You know, we
had the agricultural attache reporting directly to the
Secretary of Agriculture. We changed in the early 1980's a law
whereby the commercial attache reports to the Secretary of
Commerce, so we will ask the Secretary of Commerce.
The Chairman. Senator Snowe.
Senator Snowe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you,
Secretary Slater and Ms. Bailey, for being here this morning.
A few questions. Ms. Bailey, as I understand, State Farm
Insurance had 70 reports of various claims with respect to
these accidents, is that correct?
Dr. Bailey. What was the number?
Senator Snowe. 70 total.
Dr. Bailey. You would have to tell me over what period.
Senator Snowe. From 1998, 1999 the request that you made in
April of 2000.
Dr. Bailey. Yes, over those years it did increase.
Senator Snowe. Were there about 70 in all between 1998 and
1999? How many are we talking about?
Dr. Bailey. I will get you the number. The number, I know,
prior to the year 2000 that we knew about from State Farm was
21, but I will get the additional number.
Senator Snowe. But in response, in Joan Claybrook's
testimony it says on April 25, 2000, in response to a NHTSA
request, 70 reports covering 1996 through 2000 were sent. Would
that be correct?
Dr. Bailey. I know there were additional reports.
Senator Snowe. So there could be about 70. Now, in that 70
or so, were there deaths, fatalities related to those claims?
Dr. Bailey. In that group above the 21 I believe there
were, but again I would need to get the number for you.
Senator Snowe. I gather you make the decision, the agency
makes the decision with respect to what is statistically
significant, is that correct?
Dr. Bailey. Correct.
Senator Snowe. So why would not fatalities raise a red flag
with respect to these claims?
Dr. Bailey. A fatality itself would not necessarily, as
tragic as that is it would not necessarily alone instigate an
Senator Snowe. It would not?
Dr. Bailey. One fatality would not. Let me say that there
is a difference between some equipment on vehicles that would,
that one fatality or one failure would instigate, or just a few
complaints would instigate, an investigation when it is a piece
of equipment that should never fail, like a safety seat for a
child, or a seat belt. But tires do fail on a regular basis,
and so that has to be accounted for.
Senator Snowe. How many fatalities would be involved,
ordinarily, with tire failures that would come to your
attention, especially by an insurance company that dealt with
numerous claims and was talking about a pattern of problems,
not just one or two isolated incidents?
Dr. Bailey. Keep in mind I believe in that second group
that there in fact still would be very few fatalities, and
those words just do not even seem to go together.
I do not mean to in any way reduce our concern, or
invalidate the tragedy that has occurred here. But let me just
tell you that of 46 complaints we did have there was one
fatality in that 46 in the decade preceding. But of all the
tire failures that we were aware of, that was a small number
and still did not instigate an investigation, so it is not the
fatality, it is the nature of what it is we are investigating
and the rest of the numbers.
Senator Snowe. But would it not be unusual that State Farm
would contact NHTSA and say there is a problem here?
I do not know. I am asking you. Would you say that is
unusual? We are talking about a pattern of problems. Would you
find that unusual that the insurance company would bring that
to NHTSA's attention?
Dr. Bailey. No, because we had a relationship where we
communicated and provided information to State Farm, and they
Senator Snowe. Have you decided that it is a tire problem,
or a Ford Explorer problem, or both?
Dr. Bailey. At this time I think we are dealing with a tire
problem, but as part of our investigation we will also explore
the possibility of a combination.
Senator Snowe. Now, just looking at this New York Times
article the other day, it had a chart that said red flag.
Again, based on Federal data, that showed that fatal accidents
involving Ford Explorers were nearly three times as likely to
be tire-related compared to fatalities involving other sport
utility vehicles or cars. That data also shows the number of
accidents involving Explorers compared with other SUV's in the
late 1990's. You can see this chart. Did that ever come to your
attention in any way? The way the data comes to the agency,
would they be aware of this kind of a chart, using their own
Dr. Bailey. Indeed, we are well aware of that, and again it
is part of the ongoing investigation, because we are concerned
about the roll-over capability. And in fact, as you have heard
the Secretary testify today, that is why we are looking to
having a roll-over rating system, and hope that the restriction
on us to begin that work will be removed.
Senator Snowe. So it could be a combination problem. You
have not made that determination yet. You are looking at it?
Dr. Bailey. Correct.
Senator Snowe. Have you decided----
The Chairman. Senator Snowe, your time is up.
Senator Snowe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. I apologize. Senator Ashcroft.
Senator Ashcroft. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to try
and clarify a couple of things that I am not sure whether I
understand them. Is it your view that you do not have the
authority to receive certain information now, or that you do
not have the authority to compel certain information be
Dr. Bailey. We do not have the authority to require a
manufacturer to provide. If we request the information, yes, it
can be provided.
Senator Ashcroft. So what you need is the authority to
compel information. That is what you will be asking for, and
not to receive information, because you have already got the
ability to get the information.
Dr. Bailey. To obligate the manufacturer to provide that,
Senator Ashcroft. It occurs to me that in air traffic we
get very sensitive about analyzing fatalities and wrecks, and I
just wondered in automobile accidents the people who
investigate those accidents, who are they, and it seems to me
they are fragmented. They are not organized, and it might be
that getting that information, is it the insurance companies
who have the broadest reach in that respect, or are there law
enforcement agencies that have a broad reach there? Could you
enlighten me on that?
Secretary Slater. It is a combination of both.
Senator Ashcroft. You have city police departments, local
sheriffs, highway patrols, then some Federal law enforcement
authority, and to what extent do they ascertain or try to
identify causes for these accidents, and do they report to you
Dr. Bailey. One of the most sophisticated fatality
reporting systems is our FARS data, and that comes from
throughout the Nation, State by State and down to the local
level of law enforcement.
As the Secretary says, we get information from all sources,
and again I would want the consumers to know that we are
looking for direct information from them. That is our number 1
way of obtaining the data. But we also do have this FARS data,
which is from law enforcement. But as you hear here today, we
did not have access to the bulk of the information that could
have made a real difference here, which was that claims data.
Senator Ashcroft. Doctor, I think you suggested that you
have certain statistical guidelines. When you get information
about failures in systems, is that information related to the
consequence of the failure? In other words, does the failure
associated with the fatality have a different weight in
triggering investigation, and I think this is kind of following
up on what Senator Snowe has said.
I could see a high number of incidents that did not relate
with any sort of real threatening or life-threatening problem,
but if you get--it seems to me the threshold should be lower if
those problems are associated with fatalities or serious
injuries. Is that the way you are set up?
Dr. Bailey. Yes, sir, it is, and that is why we compile the
FARS data. But this is one more piece to those, to the puzzle
here of the way in which we use that information system.
I should say, by the way, that NHTSA itself also conducts
about 5,000 crash investigations a year.
Senator Ashcroft. I see my time is almost up, but you want
to have additional information from overseas. Is there any set
of protocols which would entitle you to that information, or
would you just try to get it by virtue of cooperation with
For instance, are there nations party to international
agreements that require or provide for exchange that we are not
a party to now? Is there a need for, in your judgment, some
sort of international protocol for this sharing? I can
understand why you would like to have the information. Is there
a mechanism for delivering the information, assembling it that
exists that we are not participating in, or is there a need for
that to be developed?
Dr. Bailey. There is a need for that to be developed.
Senator Ashcroft. So mere authority to get the information
would not automatically mean we have got it right now. You
really think there needs to be some sort of routine developed
whereby the information is shared.
Dr. Bailey. There are two issues here. One is the exchange
of information between our safety counterparts in other
countries, and more specifically, in this case with Firestone,
the information that relates to what was known by a
manufacturer about a possible defect that was information
contained in a subsidiary in another country. That is the
ability to obtain information we are requesting.
Secretary Slater. We want the manufacturers to be required
to give us that information just as they are required to give
us that kind of information when they are dealing with
situations here in the U.S. We want that same information when
they have got a situation in some other country that might be
in some way connected with a product that is in use here in the
U.S., and that is what we do not have as a requirement in this
Also, Mr. Chairman, if I may just briefly, we are working
with our foreign counterparts on a number of harmonization
efforts, and some of those deal with equipment, but this is
something that is very new when it comes to the work that we do
with our international counterparts, and it is work that is
increasing, and so we just want more of an ability and
authority and guidance when it comes to engaging in that kind
of effort with our international partners.
The Chairman. I thank you both. I appreciate your patience,
and appreciate your answers. We have a lot of work to do
between now and next Wednesday. I look forward to working with
you. Thank you for appearing.
Senator Rockefeller, my profound apologies.
Senator Rockefeller. Mr. Chairman, it is not your fault. I
just slipped in through the back door.
The Chairman. If you would remain until Senator Rockefeller
has completed his comments.
Senator Rockefeller. I just want to make an observation
which I think is ironic and interesting. For the last--and that
is the difference between the Department of Transportation--
Chairman McCain I think has done a very correct thing in having
us all sign this letter asking for something which was taken
out of appropriations, put back in both last year and this
year, but then I compare what you do in the FAA for the
certification of an airplane, of a new airplane, and this, and
it is a stunning difference.
Many, many more people use vehicles than use airplanes. I
do not know the exact figures, but it has got to be a huge
difference, and I am not trying to say we should do one for the
other, because you know, it is Ford, Chevy and Chrysler and
others that develop their cars, and then unfortunately it is
often when we come to examples of this sort that you all come
in on the contrary with the FAA Schools and Libraries
I have been involved with a new corporate jet called the
SJ30-2 for 8 years, and it has, I think, about 72,000 parts,
parts--I mean, little parts, huge parts. Even precertification,
even before what they call the roll-out can take place, FAA has
inspected every single one. DOT, in other words, has inspected
every single one of those parts.
Then they go on to the extremely complex business of the
testing of the in-flight capability of the airplane, and it is
a stunning amount of information. Everything about that
information is known by DOT, everything. There is not one
single thing, not one single part which has not been thoroughly
analyzed, tested, inspected, and it is a multiyear process.
It is very frustrating but very safe, and I just want to
make the point, Mr. Chairman, that it is just an interesting
sort of a difference within DOT, that on the one hand, you
cannot precertify Ford Explorers or anything else, but you do
complain of a lack of regulatory authority, a little bit like
the Surface Transportation Board complains of a lack of
regulatory authority. We routinely do not do anything about it,
and I think under Chairman McCain we are about to do something
about that, and I am not suggesting regulatory authority ought
to govern all of this, but it is a stunning difference between
a mode of transportation that carries fewer people, as opposed
to a mode of transportation that carries far more people.
You are all over one, and limited to about 20 engineers out
in the field, and then you have to wait until something
happens, and I just want to make that observation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Please respond, Secretary Slater. I think it
is a very interesting point.
Secretary Slater. It is, and with the question that Senator
Ashcroft was asking a few minutes ago, I thought about the
comparison that was being made, but wanted to be more direct in
response to him.
You should know that we have worked very hard as a
Department, and especially NHTSA, to make the point that it
should be unacceptable that we sort of accept as a matter of
course the loss of 40,000 people on our roadways on an annual
basis. We have worked very hard to bring that number down, at
one point over 40 percent, 41 percent of all of the automobile
crashes involved alcohol. Fortunately, through our efforts,
working with MADD and other organizations, we are down below 40
now at about 38 percent, and continuing to drive that number
.08 would be a measure that would help us in that regard.
We have also worked with the Congress to do things like bring
into law the zero tolerance for youth when it comes to alcohol
and driving some years ago during the Reagan Administration
with the leadership of the Congress. And at the time we were
able to pass the 21 age for drinking for youth.
And so we have I think started to do things to demonstrate
that it is not acceptable to have those kinds of numbers. And
we have worked in partnership with the automotive industry to
make those improvements as well.
Just one example and I will close. With our partnership
with New Generation Vehicles, we are not only trying to get
greater efficiency as it relates to gasoline mileage, about 80
miles per gallon, but we are also testing to ensure that there
is no safety compromise, that there is the performance and
ultimately that it will be something that is affordable so all
of the American people can enjoy.
But I think that NHTSA focusing on prevention is really
starting to make some significant headway on this issue. And it
is not where it is with aviation. We have got 52,000 of our
100,000 employees who are in aviation. We are now trying to get
a few more in NHTSA and some additional authority. And I think
we are moving in a common sense approach and way to addressing
these issues in ways that are more common than different. And I
appreciate you and others who have raised the issue over the
course of the hearing.
The Chairman. Thank you. And again, my apologies, Senator
Rockefeller. Senator Hollings has a followup.
Senator Hollings. Mr. Secretary, the records show that
NHTSA's had 99 million recalls in the last 5 years. I take it
all of those have been voluntary. Can you correct me? How many
have you ordered in the last 5 years?
Dr. Bailey. You are correct, sir. The vast majority are
Senator Hollings. Have you ordered any recalls in the last
5 years that you know of?
Dr. Bailey. Twenty percent overall, not in the last 5
years. Twenty percent are mandatory. But again, it is the real
minority. We are really----
Secretary Slater. That is NHTSA influenced. And you could
argue in this instance----
The Chairman. Let us answer Senator Holling's question. In
the last 5 years, how many recalls? What percent?
Secretary Slater. I do not know that we have it for the
last 5 years, Mr. Chairman. We will see.
Senator Hollings. Well, we have it. They just gave it to
Secretary Slater. That is why we said in the beginning we
would like to have the information you have.
Dr. Bailey. The answer is over 60 percent of the vehicles
recalled are a direct result of our investigations. But the
answer to the last 5 years, none.
Senator Hollings. That is what I was saying. All of them
(information) have been voluntary. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you. And I again want to thank the
witnesses. Secretary Slater, I think it is one point here to--
and I am sorry to belabor it but I will be quick. I worked very
closely with you and worked very closely with Dr. Bailey's
predecessor, on airbags and on a whole lot of other issues.
Never once has any of you come to me and said, look. We have
got to increase this budget. Be our advocate here. And so I
just want to make it clear that not only have we not resisted
any increases, I think this committee would have been very
receptive to an increase in funding.
But that is behind us now. Let us work on this legislation.
And let us also try and work together on seeing what additional
funds that are necessary to prevent this from ever occurring
again. And I think we have had a very excellent working
relationship and one that I am very pleased with. But now it is
a very important time that we really coordinate our efforts. It
is not going to help anybody if we get in a disagreement
between this committee and the administration in trying to
enact this legislation within the next few weeks.
Secretary Slater. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You are
The Chairman. Thank you, both. Thank you. Our next witness
is Mr. Masatoshi Ono, the Chief Executive Officer of
Bridgestone/Firestone of Tokyo, Japan. And obviously your full
testimony will be made part of the record, Mr. Ono. But also
take whatever time that you feel necessary with your opening
comments. Welcome before the committee.
STATEMENT OF MASATOSHI ONO,
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC.
Mr. Ono. Chairman McCain and Senator Hollings and members
of the Committee, as the Chief Executive Officer, I come before
you to express my deep regret and the sympathy to you and the
American people and especially to the families who have lost
loved ones in these terrible auto accidents.
I also come to accept full and personal responsibility on
behalf of Bridgestone/Firestone for the events that led to this
hearing. Whenever people are hurt or fatally injured in
automobile accidents, it is tragic. Whenever people are injured
while riding on Firestone tires, it is cause for great concern
among Bridgestone/Firestone management and our 35,000 American
employees. We are committed to resolving this situation and
regaining the trust of our customers. My experience last week
suggested that my problems with English may have limited our
ability to explain important issues to you and the American
people. So I would ask that our remarks be completed by our
Executive Vice President, Mr. John Lampe.
STATEMENT OF JOHN LAMPE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, ACCOMPANIED
BY BOB WYANT, VICE PRESIDENT FOR
QUALITY ASSURANCE, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC.
Mr. Lampe. Mr. Chairman, Senator Hollings, members of the
committee, with your permission, my name is John Lampe. I am an
Executive Vice President with Bridgestone/Firestone.
We want to thank you for calling this hearing. Last month
on August 9, our company announced a voluntary recall of over
14 million tires made over a 10-year period. We took this
action out of concern for customer safety. We must and we do
take full responsibility for the recalled tires and the things
that we have done before August 9 and since.
I firmly believe that we have been and will continue to be
open and honest in these hearings and with the American public.
However, I know that we have not been successful in
communicating our most basic message, that our company and the
thousands of employees who make up our company have a true and
deep concern for consumer safety and customer satisfaction.
We pledge to have open and transparent processes so that
our customers, the Congress and the public can be confident
that we have done the right thing now and will continue to do
so in the future.
I also know that we make great tire products on which
millions of Americans have driven for billions of safe miles.
But at the same time, gentlemen, I recognize and we recognize
there is a problem, a very complex problem that must be solved
because lives are at stake. And for too long we did not see the
The tire industry's traditional measures of product
performance--test data, analysis of failed tires and warning
adjustment data--told us that these tires were fine. And
although we knew we had claims, and when we evaluated tires
involved in these claims, we did not believe the statistics
generated by those claims was a good indicator of tire
performance and product performance.
We believed until recently that the accidents and claims
reported were simply part of supplying a large number of
vehicles like the SUVs and light trucks. Our feeling was that
the large population and vehicle characteristics alone
explained these accidents and that was wrong. Our own data
ultimately demonstrated that.
In early August, with the assistance of Ford, a statistical
analysis of our claim data was conducted that demonstrated that
the tires are clearly part of the problem. When we fully
understood this new analysis, we acted to get the tires off the
road, even though we could not identify a cause or causes. We
acted because each and every accident that causes serious
injuries or death is devastating to us. And, Senator Frist, I
am sorry for your loss as well, sir.
Tire failure is a result. We must now focus on the cause.
We have been working day and night to try to determine the root
cause or causes of the tire problem. And finding that cause is
made much more difficult because we are looking at a very small
percentage of failures in an extremely large population of
tires. But we believe we have narrowed the focus and believe
the solution may lie in two areas, the unique design
specification of the size P235/75R15 combined with variations
in the manufacturing process at the Decatur plant. We are
appointing Dr. Sanjay Govindjee, an independent, outside,
completely independent, third party investigator to verify our
work to date and to help us move to a more definitive solution
on the tire piece of the puzzle.
We take full responsibility, Senators, when a tire fails
because of a defect. We firmly believe, however, that the tire
is only part of the overall safety problem shown by these
tragic accidents. If we are really concerned--and we are--about
consumer safety, we will leave no stone unturned. There are
other questions that still must be answered in this complex
The entire issue of tire inflation pressures selected by
the vehicle manufacturer must be addressed. Does it provide an
adequate safety margin to guard against damage caused by
underinflation and overloading?
For example, at PSI, at 26 pounds per square inch, the Ford
Explorer has little safety margin to guard against overloading.
That is one of the reasons that we have recommended 30 PSI for
that vehicle. Problems can and do occur if the air pressure
drops below the originally specified level.
So what margin of safety should be required? Tires will
fail. Dr. Bailey said it. Tires will fail and they do fail for
a number of reasons. But in most cases, while experiencing a
tire failure, the driver can bring that automobile under safe
However, we have seen an alarming number of serious
accidents from rollovers of SUVs after a tire failure. Federal
data shows that there have been over 16,000 rollovers with the
Ford Explorer causing 600 deaths. The tire failure has been
involved in only a very, very small percentage of these deaths.
But since we know a tire can fail and no death is
acceptable, is there a dynamic test that can minimize the role
of the tire in such catastrophic events? We believe that in the
interest to public safety, one of the areas of focus for future
valuations by NHTSA, by us, by the automobile industry, should
be the interaction between the tire and the vehicle.
The Senator has already talked about the Federal motor
safety standards that were initiated in 1968. They do not
address this vehicle population, a population which has
exploded in the past 10 years. These issues have been difficult
for us. We are not vehicle experts. And these issues may have
made it harder for us to see that problems we had and that we
now recognize in our tires. Or do we see the future?
First, the tire industry, the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration and the auto industry need to work
together to immediately detect and address tire problems and
vehicle problems. We fully support the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration on reporting of overseas information
regarding tire safety, revisions to the tire safety standards,
developing early warning systems to quickly identify failure
trends, dynamic testing to identify those vehicles which have
tendencies to roll over and to design ways to address this. We
support in-vehicle low pressure warning systems.
We talk about inflation a lot. In-vehicle low pressure
warning system. And we are in favor and would support
increasing penalties for violations of safety laws and
regulations. We also strongly believe in educating the public
about the importance of tire maintenance. We have developed a
comprehensive, multi-part program to better accomplish this
which I can address in the questions and answers.
Senators we are committed to take every step necessary to
address these problems. We pledge our cooperation with this
committee and with NHTSA to work to ensure the safety of all
motoring public. All of our employees are committed to this. We
recently were able to come to a successful labor agreement with
the United Steel Workers of America. The United Steel Workers
of America, who are represented in this room today, and their
members will support and will help us overcome and accomplish
what we have to do.
As a tire manufacturer, we will continue to serve society
with products of superior quality and work diligently to regain
the trust of our customers. There are a lot of specifics,
Senators, that I would have liked to have covered about the
recall itself. But I am sure I will get the opportunity to do
that in the question and answers.
I would close by saying mistakes can be and are tragic. It
is even more tragic not to learn by our mistakes and to prevent
them from happening in the future. Mr. Chairman, thank you
very, very much. And we welcome any questions that you may
[The prepared statement of Mr. Ono follows:]
Prepared Statement of Masatoshi Ono, Chief Executive Officer,
Chairman McCain, Senator Hollings and Members of the Committee:
As Chief Executive Officer, I come before you to express my deep
regret and sympathy to you, the American people and especially to the
families who have lost loved ones in these terrible rollover accidents.
I also come to accept full and personal responsibility on behalf of
Bridgestone/Firestone for the events that led to this hearing. Whenever
people are hurt or fatally injured in automobile accidents, it is
tragic. Whenever people are injured while riding on Firestone tires, it
is cause for great concern among Bridgestone/Firestone's management and
our 35,000 American employees. We are committed to resolving this
situation and regaining the trust of our customers.
My experience last week suggested that my problems with English may
have limited our ability to explain important issues to you and the
American people. I would ask that our remarks be completed by our
executive vice president, Mr. John Lampe.
Prepared statement of John Lampe, Executive Vice President,
Chairman McCain, Senator Hollings, and Members of this Committee:
We want to thank you for calling this hearing. It has been a new
experience for us to be appearing before Congress, and probably for any
company to be subject to such an intense Congressional investigation as
has occurred over such a short period of time. But, we are greatly
benefiting from this process to learn about our own mistakes, and to
work with you, Members of the Committee, toward ensuring that our tires
and all tires are as safe as possible.
Firestone has manufactured hundreds of millions of safe tires for
over one hundred years. Americans have driven billions of safe miles on
safe Firestone tires. That is why this situation, with deaths and
serious injuries, must be addressed and should never happen again.
It is little more than a month ago, on August 8, that we met with
the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and together
reviewed the performance of tires that have been associated with tread
separations. These accidents have primarily occurred on the Ford
Explorer vehicle. We regret that almost 10% of those rollovers involved
tire separations. In light of that fact, we announced a voluntary
safety recall of 6.5 million tires.
We are recalling those tires as quickly as possible. We are making
every effort to determine why certain tires failed. So far, we have
replaced 2 million tires. Although we sped up production, we cannot
meet full demand. To help alleviate that problem, we are paying for
competitor tires to act as replacements. We are reviewing every aspect
of our manufacturing and control processes. We are making microscopic
examinations of many recalled tires.
We also are trying to work with Ford Motor Company to understand
the cause. This has led us to understand a key point for the future.
The government and others have tended to look at auto safety and tire
safety separately. We believe that it is important to look at both
issues together. Correct tires must be matched with vehicles; the
mutual duties of tire manufacturers and automobile manufacturers must
be made absolutely clear. If only it were possible to find a simple
cause, such as certain tires made at a certain time and a certain
plant, we would have resolved the problem.
But, we cannot today provide you with a conclusive cause of our
past problems. We will not rest until we determine the cause.
We wish to take this opportunity to clarify some key points that
were raised at last week's hearings.
First, why didn't we immediately alert NHTSA and the
American public when incidents involving rollovers occurred in
Second, why didn't we act on claims data and immediately
recall our tires?
Third, did we encourage Ford to conceal information from
NHTSA relating to what occurred in Saudi Arabia?
Fourth, did Ford have to ``pry'' information out of us
relevant to potentially serious or fatal injuries as a result
of rollover accidents?
Fifth, are we going to make an additional recall of the 1.4
million tires suggested by NHTSA?
Sixth, what speed tests did we conduct or not conduct, and
Seventh, what information have we learned about what went
wrong at our Decatur plant in 1995 and 1996?
We will provide this Committee our best answers to these crucial
Perhaps left out of the klieg lights of last week's hearings, which
focused on matters of the past, was the actions we will take now to
assure the American public that Firestone tires are safe.
First, we will appoint an outside, independent investigator to
assist in tire analysis and determine the root cause of the tire
problem. This investigator will help assure you and the American public
that Firestone tires are reliable now and in the future.
Second, we will fully cooperate with this Committee about tire
safety. We will release data and information in order to assure
consumer safety with our products.
Third, we are accelerating a rollout of a nationwide consumer
education program. If there is any good that has come out of this very
bad situation, it is the need for the American people to be fully
informed about tire safety. Our education program will take place in
almost 7,000 company stores and Firestone dealers. It will provide
everyone with information about proper tire maintenance and safety. We
will use in-store videos, showroom displays, brochures, windshield tire
pressure reminders, and tire pressure gauges. We will strive to assure
that all consumers understand the safe use of tires.
Fourth, we pledge to continue to work with NHTSA toward developing
better ``early warning systems'' about tire safety. We commend NHTSA
Administrator Bailey for her suggestions. We will inform NHTSA about
recalls that occur in foreign countries. We will work with NHTSA to
develop an in-vehicle system to alert drivers about tire pressure.
Fifth, we will work with this committee to develop any necessary
legislative remedies that will assure to the American public that their
tires and vehicles are safe. The distinct roles of tire and vehicle
manufacturers regarding safety need to be brought together, rather than
looked at separately. We will work with you to bring this disconnect to
With us today are some leaders of our union workers. We stand
united as we work together to assure millions of families that have put
their trust and faith in Firestone that, now and in the future, we will
manufacture the safe tires that every consumer can trust. Mistakes can
be tragic, but it is more tragic not to learn from them. We will work
with you in this hearing and in the future to achieve that goal.
The Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Lampe. For the record, would
you state your formal relationship with Bridgestone/Firestone?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, sir. I am an Executive Vice President with
Bridgestone/Firestone. And my specific responsibilities are I
am in charge and responsible for our sales in the after market,
not to OE, but in the after market. And, Senator McCain, may I
ask that we be joined, if we may, by Bob Wyant who is our Vice
President for Quality Assurance?
The Chairman. He would be welcome. Mr. Wyant, if you would
Mr. Wyant. Thank you, Senator.
The Chairman. Take a seat at the table. My first question
is Bridgestone/Firestone has repeatedly stated that it was not
aware of a problem with the tires subject to recall until
August of this year. However, in a September 9, 2000, article,
The Washington Post reported an ample documentation existed of
multiple warnings to your company of a possible defect,
including a mid-1998 report that showed a dramatic increase in
customer claims relating to tread separation in the tires that
are now subject to recall.
Additionally, annual Firestone reports on claims data
indicated a dramatic increase in claims in 1998 and 1999. Did
not the increased number of claims in conjunction with the
problems you were having overseas give you some indication that
you were having a problem?
Mr. Lampe. Senator McCain, I think it is very important
that I start off by explaining when we talk about claims
because there will be a lot of questions on claims. Claims for
us and for NHTSA are represented really by three different
distinct pieces. One is product damage claims. And that makes
up the overwhelming majority of the total claims number when we
look at that. We also have personal injuries and we also have
Senator McCain, I would like to address the property damage
part of that. It is the overwhelming piece of numbers. Senator
McCain, our business--and I guess I have to say the support
from our customers over the last 7 years--has been
overwhelming. We have actually doubled, more than doubled, our
sales in the last 6 years. We would have expected our claims
numbers in absolute numbers to rise. We would have expected the
dollar amount of our property damage claims to arise. But,
Senator, the mistake we made is that we never used claims data
as an indicator of tire performance.
The Chairman. Why not?
Mr. Lampe. We used--and we do not have any excuses other
than to say we used the traditional and the more approved,
proven methods that I believe the industry uses. And I cannot
speak for everybody. But we use things like adjustment data,
tires coming in that we see and we touch. We use field surveys
to go out actually to the field. We used testing. We used those
because they were traditional. And then all of a sudden, we
have this claims information. And when we did this analysis
with--believe me--with the help of Ford--Ford did most of the
analysis--we see that it clearly pointed out that we had some
problems in certain areas.
The Chairman. Ford executives allege that they became
suspicious of a potential problem with Bridgestone/Firestone
tires in foreign markets and that Ford requested data that you
may have then possessed confirming their suspicion. They say
that in response you only provided warranty adjustment data
which showed no sign of problems, and not claims data, which
would have indicated a problem. Is that true?
Mr. Lampe. Senator McCain, we have supplied Ford over the
years any technical data, engineering data, that they have
requested. Ford never requested, to the best of my knowledge--
and we have had this conversation within my company--Ford never
requested claims data until the middle of this year, June or
July. We had been requested by NHTSA to supply that claims data
as well. We were putting it together for NHTSA. We supplied it
to NHTSA in July. And within 2 to 3 weeks after that, we
supplied it to Ford. I have absolutely no knowledge of any
requests for claims data prior to that from Ford.
The Chairman. My time has expired. Senator Hollings.
Senator Hollings. That has to do with the claims. How about
lawsuits? I notice now you will inform NHTSA about the recalls
that occur in foreign countries. What is the position now of
Bridgestone/Firestone on the actual lawsuits? You are right. A
lot of these claims are with respect to the warranty. But when
you get a lawsuit, you have got usually property damage,
injury, maybe a death.
Mr. Lampe. Yes, sir.
Senator Hollings. Will you also go along with notifying us
about the lawsuits? Because that to me rather than seal the
records and not let anybody know which they claim the lawyers
or the judges or the system requires or allows. What about you
yourself, Bridgestone/Firestone? Would you go along with us now
in letting us have the information with respect to lawsuits?
Mr. Lampe. One hundred percent, Senator Hollings. And let
me do mention, there has been one of the Senators in the
opening remarks talked about gag orders. And I need to explain
this. We have never, ever asked for a gag order on any trial
proceedings or litigation unless it involved trade secrets
which does require a Judge to issue a formal court order. And
when he does that, we ask for protection on trade secrets, and
the amount of settlement between the two parties. That is the
only thing that we have ever asked for, confidentiality on
litigation. And we have supplied all of that information to
NHTSA. And we will to you, Senator Hollings.
Senator Hollings. Are you saying the claimant's attorney is
the one that has been requesting that?
Mr. Lampe. No, sir. I am not saying that at all. I am not
saying that at all.
Senator Hollings. That crowd loves publicity.
Mr. Lampe. I am not saying that at all.
Senator Hollings. They get a big verdict or a big
settlement, you cannot keep their mouth shut at the club. That
is all you hear about for a week. Well, who is claiming that we
ought to have the gag order? Not the judge.
Mr. Lampe. No, sir. No, sir. Please, I will explain. We
have asked for confidentiality on only two things in all of our
litigation. One is trade secrets. And one is the amount of
settlements. Sometimes that is our request. Sometimes it is a
joint request by the plaintiff. But we have supplied all that
information and will continue to supply that information with
the plaintiff's admission to NHTSA and to the hearings, believe
Senator Hollings. Now, we have had some 88 deaths, 250
injuries. And you take a whole paragraph of your statement
here, a third, that we will strive to assure that all consumers
understand the safe use of tires. Intimating, of course, that
there has been some unsafe use of tires. Can you tell me in the
88 deaths or 250 injuries the example of the unsafe use of
Mr. Lampe. Senator Hollings, and please the rest of the
Senators, we are not trying to blame the public. We do believe
that we should as an industry have been doing a better job on
educating the public. Tire maintenance, Senator Hollings, is
extremely important, extremely important. Tire inflation is
critical, critical, to the performance and the durability of
Senator Hollings. Is there some dispute about that
inflation, that should have been in these rollover deaths or
claims or injuries? Is there a difference between you and Ford
with respect to that tire pressure?
Mr. Lampe. Sir, when the original tire pressure was
established and it was selected by the manufacturer, we as a
tire manufacturer agreed with that inflation pressure. And we
started to see some----
Senator Hollings. What was that?
Mr. Lampe. It was on the Ford Explorer specifically, sir.
It was 26 pounds front and rear. When we began to see, looking
at the claims data, the number of incidents, the number of
rollovers and so forth, we went to Ford and told them that we
would like to recommend 30 pounds of air pressure which we
think give a better safety margin. And Ford did agree to have a
range of inflation between 26 and 30 pounds.
Senator Hollings. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you, sir. Senator Snowe.
Senator Snowe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Lampe, does
Firestone still maintain that the defective tires are
essentially manufactured in Decatur's plant?
Mr. Lampe. I am sorry, Senator Snowe. That the defective
tires are manufactured----
Senator Snowe. Right.
Mr. Lampe. There were two sets, two parts, of the recalled
tires, Senator Snowe. One was ATX's that were produced in a
number of plants primarily in Decatur, but in a number of
plants. Those are all being recalled. And then specifically,
the Wilderness AT that was produced in the Decatur plant is
also part of that being recalled.
Senator Snowe. There are a number of plants involved.
Mr. Lampe. In the ATX, the older tires, yes, ma'am.
Senator Snowe. A report that was issued yesterday indicated
the Wilderness tires that the tread separation increased 194
percent between 1998 and 1999. Is that something that your
company would have been aware of at the time?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, it should have been--it was something that
our company was aware of at the time. Again, and it is hard to
put it in perspective unless we measure--and I wish I had that
information for you. And I will provide it for you. If we could
measure and show you the amount of separations on the
Wilderness compared to our sales or compared to our production,
that line, that Wilderness line, was introduced in 1996. It is
one of the biggest lines we have ever made and sold. It went on
the Ford Explorer. It is a huge population of tires. For our
absolute numbers to have increased 196 percent to me does not
say anything if we do not compare it to what the population
was. And I will get you that information.
Senator Snowe. How do fatalities figure into that
decisionmaking with respect to tread separation?
Mr. Lampe. Fatalities are a tragedy. One is not acceptable.
One is not acceptable. And we had individual cases of
fatalities that we looked at. We examined the tire. We did
everything we could to make sure that tire did not have a
problem that could have contributed to that. But obviously,
Senator Snowe, as I said, we have made some bad tires. And we
take full responsibility for that.
Senator Snowe. It was indicated in one story that more than
4 years before Firestone gave Ford Motor Company or Federal
regulators any hint of a problem with its tires for sport
utility vehicles, the company's engineers had been alerted by
the State of Arizona that their tire treads tended to separate
in hot weather.
Mr. Lampe. Senator McCain, I thought you might be
interested in the State of Arizona. You want me to write the
The Chairman. And I am also interested in salvaging my
tattered voting record. So I will be back.
Mr. Lampe. We can repeat the answer for Senator McCain.
Yes, there was in 1996, Senator Snowe, there was a request by
the Fish and Game Department or Wildlife and Park Department in
Arizona to come out and look at a number of tires that they
were not happy with. We did go out and we surveyed a number of
tires. We sent out six engineers. Senator Snowe, in the case
of--in the 1996 case, we found many, many passenger tires,
regular passenger service tires on their vehicles which as
their name would imply, Wildlife and Parks, were used in much
off the road conditions. We went through a number of tires and
found not one tire, not one tire, that had a defect that would
have been adjusted. The tire was not proper for the
application. We took those tires off. We gave them credit. And
they used that credit to buy a special service truck tire from
us to put on their vehicle. I do not believe that the 1996
thing had anything to do with--to the best of my recollection
of what I've been informed--has nothing to do with tread
Senator Snowe. Has the company responded to NHTSA's
requests for all of the documents?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, ma'am. It has. And I heard Dr. Bailey
mention that she does not have the Arizona document. And I have
made a note. And I will commit to you and the committee that if
she does not have that, if that was not in our submission, that
we will get that information--if that information is available,
we will get that to her.
Senator Snowe. So the company's not withholding any
documents that have been requested by NHTSA.
Mr. Lampe. Absolutely not, Senator Snowe.
Senator Snowe. None whatsoever.
Mr. Lampe. Absolutely not.
Senator Snowe. So it is not necessary for them to use their
Mr. Lampe. Absolutely not, Senator Snowe.
Senator Snowe. Thank you.
Senator Bryan. Thank you very much, Senator. Let me try to
get a handle on the term, ``We made some bad tires.'' I believe
that is the language you used, Mr. Lampe. Am I correct on that?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, Senator.
Senator Bryan. And are bad tires to be equated with tires
that have defects of some kind?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, sir.
Senator Bryan. Now, what tires do you acknowledge have
Mr. Lampe. Sir, we made a very small percentage of tires in
our Decatur facility with the Wilderness AT that we believe
could pose a safety problem.
Senator Bryan. Now, are the ATX, the ATXII, different than
the Wilderness tires? We have been led to believe that there
may be some difference. Help us to understand what we are
Mr. Lampe. Yes, sir. The ATX--and I am sorry, the whole
ATX, ATXII thing got confused. We only have one tire, the ATX.
We at one point in time changed the designation internally for
ATXII, but it still says ATX on the tire. So there is really
one tire. That tire was introduced in mid- or late 1980's and
was produced and supplied as original equipment up through 1995
and the beginning of 1996. It was discontinued for original
equipment, replaced by the Wilderness. We did continue to
produce smaller amounts of the ATX in our plants for the
Senator Bryan. So again, ATX and ATXII are one and the same
Mr. Lampe. ATX and ATXII are one and the same tire, sir.
Senator Bryan. And Wilderness, that would be a separate
tire run? Is that correct?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, the Wilderness AT was a separate tire.
Senator Bryan. So we are really dealing with two different
Mr. Lampe. Two different tires, one size.
Senator Bryan. Now, do you acknowledge that there are
defects in the Wilderness tires?
Mr. Lampe. Sir, we acknowledge safety problems and defects
in a very small percentage of the Wilderness tires that were
produced in Decatur, yes sir.
Senator Bryan. So there is some agreement that there are
defects in the ATX and the Wilderness tires.
Mr. Lampe. Yes, Senator.
Senator Bryan. Now, safety advocates have urged that there
be a recall of all of these tires in light of the uncertainties
and the concern of the public. Let me just say people are
really frightened, Mr. Lampe. They have read these articles.
They have seen television accounts. They know generally that
people have died as a result of problems and others have
received injuries on an ongoing basis. Would it not be the
corporate responsible thing to do to simply issue a recall of
all of these tires, both the 15 inch as well as the 16 inch.
Mr. Lampe. Sir, I would not think that--I do not believe
that would be responsible. And, sir, I think it would be
counterproductive to be replacing good tires with good tires.
Right now we have a task ahead of us to replace 6.5 million
tires. We have only replaced two million. I say only even
though it has been a month. We have four million tires to
replace. Anything that would interfere with that task before us
to replace those four million tires to me, sir, would be an
Senator Bryan. And so it is Bridgestone/Firestone's
position that they are not going to expand the recall.
Mr. Lampe. At this time, no sir.
Senator Bryan. Now, I think I understood you to say, and
correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Lampe, that you first became aware
of the defects in July of this year? If I have mischaracterized
your testimony, let me make sure that I give you an opportunity
to correct my statement. I thought I understood you to say, if
I heard you incorrectly, tell me when you first became aware of
Mr. Lampe. Sir, we first became aware of the safety problem
when Ford analyzed our claims data, statistically analyzed it.
And they spent a lot of time and a lot of resources to do this.
Senator Bryan. And when was that?
Mr. Lampe. This was to the best of my recollection, sir, it
was early August. Early August.
Senator Bryan. Of this year.
Mr. Lampe. Of this year, sir.
Senator Bryan. Well, I think what we find so incredulous
about that is that we have had a whole series of recalls
beginning in Saudi Arabia in 1999 in August. Let me ask you in
terms of knowledge, were you aware of those recalls that
occurred in August 1999 in Saudi Arabia?
Mr. Wyant. Might I answer that question?
Senator Bryan. Yes. I think the answer could be yes or no.
If you did not know, that is fine. But, yes sir. Mr. Wyant, I
think it is. Were you aware of that?
Mr. Wyant. The Saudi Arabia action was known to us. We in
fact had joint studies.
Senator Bryan. Again, my time is limited. So the answer
would be yes, sir, that you did know about the recall.
Mr. Wyant. Yes.
Senator Bryan. And that was August 1999. And again, I take
it that you may have been aware then of the Malaysia, Thailand,
Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador recalls all of which predated the
August, 2000 recall notice here in the United States. Would
that be correct as well?
Mr. Wyant. Well, first of all, these customer actions were
actually generated by the Ford Motor Company.
Senator Bryan. I understand that. But, Mr. Wyant, we are
trying to get the facts. I mean, you were aware of it.
Mr. Wyant. Yes.
Senator Bryan. So as the lawyers would say, you would be
charged with--there was a whole series of recalls, whether you
did it or Ford did it, but these tires are being recalled. And
you did have knowledge of each of these I take it.
Mr. Wyant. We had knowledge of these, but very limited
knowledge in the Malaysia area. But the other two, we had
knowledge. And those actions on the part of Ford were because
of the local service conditions.
Mr. Lampe. Senator Bryan, we were aware that Ford was
making a customer satisfaction exchange.
Senator Bryan. Well, let me just simply say that I think I
would charge you with notice that there is a serious problem.
There are a half a dozen countries that are involved here. And
what we find to be troublesome, and I want to give you an
opportunity to respond. You are all aware of this Ford
memorandum that has been produced which would indicate if
true--and we want to get your response to this--that at the
time these recalls were being discussed, Firestone objected
because they were concerned that to issue such a recall would
impose upon them a burden to notify U.S. DOT or NHTSA. Now, the
clear inference of that is that you were trying to conceal and
hide this information.
This is Ford's memo. Let me understand what your
interpretation of your actions are.
Mr. Wyant. Senator, that particular notification that you
read dealt with an engineering judgment in Saudi Arabia. After
the surveys and analysis of the data and these extreme
conditions in Saudi Arabia, it was an engineering judgment that
there was not a tire defect involved with it.
Second, the conversation that you referred to with
conversation in our organization to the sales company that that
was an issue that should be discussed. That was not a warning
sign or anything of that sort to the Ford Motor Company.
Mr. Lampe. Senator Bryan, if I may too, just one quick
comment to point out.
Senator Bryan. Yes.
Mr. Lampe. The survey that we did in Saudi Arabia, we did
it jointly with Ford. And it was jointly agreed that the tires
in Saudi Arabia that we were looking at were failing--the ones
we saw were failing due to the extreme conditions--extreme
conditions. And that was agreed upon with Ford.
Senator Bryan. Mr. Lampe, I guess the question did
Bridgestone/Firestone agree that the tires should be recalled?
Mr. Lampe. No, sir. We did not.
Senator Bryan. They did not. So Ford took a position with
which you disagree.
Mr. Lampe. Yes, sir.
Senator Bryan. And is that true with respect to the other
recalls that we have in Malaysia, Thailand, Venezuela, Columbia
Mr. Wyant. We have no knowledge of the basis of that in
that--well, in the Malaysia, Thailand area, we had very limited
information. We did have some knowledge of it certainly. But I
do not know the basis of that particular action. In the
Venezuela arena, they did take action similar, I believe, to
what was taken in Saudi Arabia.
Senator Bryan. Would it be correct to assume that in some
instances you are saying you had no knowledge with respect to
Venezuela? You did not know the date upon which they based it.
But in any event, you did not affirmatively as a company concur
or agree with the recalls in these other countries.
Mr. Wyant. That's correct.
Senator Bryan. Well, I mean, you have got a company like
Ford Motor Company? They are in business to make a profit. And
that is not a dirty word in America. Would that not suggest to
you that if they were initiating these recalls, that we have
got now several countries that you were aware of. Does that not
elevate or heighten your concern that, ``Hey? We may have a
Mr. Wyant. Senator, I am trying to clarify that in those
two arenas, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, we did not participate
because there was no indication of a tire defect.
Senator Bryan. I understand you didn't participate. But
that is not my question. My question is that Ford Motor Company
decided to recall those tires. They do not just do that without
some great reason for doing so, one has to conclude. My point
is does that not place the company with some affirmative
responsibility to say, ``wait a minute if Ford is recalling
these tires, even though we may not disagree, we have got a
real problem here.''
Mr. Wyant. Sir, due to the local conditions, there is
always the question of ``Is this an appropriate tire?'' The
tires that were removed from the market, are those appropriate
tires for that market? And that is part of the consideration or
issue that Ford has to deal with.
Senator Bryan. But I take it that these tires were sold in
American markets, am I correct? The tires that were sold in
Saudi Arabia. The tires that were sold in Venezuela that you
acknowledge that you had some knowledge of. Those were the same
tires that were sold in the U.S. were they not?
Mr. Wyant. The Venezuelan situation, the tires there that
were from the U.S. market were extremely small.
Senator Bryan. Not the same tires.
Mr. Wyant. Pardon?
Senator Bryan. Not the same tires then.
Mr. Wyant. Most of those tires are actually produced in
Venezuela for the local Venezuelan market.
Senator Bryan. But, Mr. Wyant, I think, you know, let us
not go into these nuances. Are they the same tires or not? If
they are not the same tires, then we have got a different
situation. It is not a question of where they are produced. Are
they the same tires, the ATXs or ATXII, which I understand is
one and the same, the Wilderness, are those the same tires that
were being sold in the U.S.?
Mr. Wyant. In the case of Venezuela, they are not the same
Senator Bryan. They are not the same tires. How about Saudi
Mr. Wyant. In Saudi Arabia, the tires and vehicles were
exported to Saudi Arabia and they are USA produced tires.
Senator Bryan. My point being we do live on one planet. I
happen to come from a State, as does our distinguished
Chairman, in which we get temperatures in the summertime that
very closely approximate the kind of driving conditions that
one would have in Saudi Arabia. My point being it strikes me
that we had some affirmative obligation on your part. I know we
have gone into this. My last question, Mr. Chairman, because I
am going to have to slip away and vote too, is you have
indicated, I think, Mr. Wyant, that you have provided all
documents that NHTSA has requested. My question is a little
different. Are you prepared at this point to disclose all
documents, memos, correspondence, any type of communication,
that you have had either internally with Ford or any other
company, or with your customers that you have in your corporate
Mr. Wyant. That is certainly correct. If I may clarify one
issue if you will, sir.
Senator Bryan. Yes.
Mr. Wyant. Particularly on the Saudi Arabia situation, I do
not believe that those conditions of operation there are
comparable to the United States. It is common practice in Saudi
Arabia to let substantial amounts of air out of your tires when
you go out into the desert. And there is not too much
availability of air when you come back in. There is also
substantial puncture. And there are tire failures, substantial
tire failures, in that environment. But the environment is much
more severe than it is in the United States.
Mr. Lampe. Senator Bryan, to answer your question, we will
make all documents available to NHTSA.
Senator Bryan. And will you do so voluntarily?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, sir.
Senator Bryan. In other words, it is not a question of
whether or not the question is precisely asked. You are saying
any document, any kind of correspondence, memorandum, you will
make that available and do so. And would you also make that
available to the Committee?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, Senator.
Senator Bryan. And I thank you very much, Mr. Lampe, Mr.
Wyant, Mr. Ono. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Bryan. You wanted to tell
me about Arizona.
Mr. Lampe. The question was asked as you were leaving,
Senator, about Arizona. There was a report that in 1996, we had
a request from one of the government agencies in Arizona--I
think it was the Arizona Parks and Recreations Department--to
come out and take a look at some tires that they were not happy
with. We went out, surveyed the tires. We sent out six
engineers and found that the majority of the vehicles were
using passenger, normal passenger type, product. Even though
they did a lot of off the road and fairly heavy service type
duty. We examined the tires, did not find one single tire that
would be adjustable under material defect or workmanship. But
we went ahead and we replaced the tires. We gave credit to the
department. And they turned around and used that credit to buy
heavy duty special service tires from us for their vehicles.
And that was the 1996 Parks and Recreations Department event.
The Chairman. Well, I thank you for that. I think that many
automobile owners in Arizona who were using Bridgestone/
Firestone tires would have liked to have known about your
recall in Saudi Arabia as well. I thank you for appearing.
Senator Wyden. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate it. My
apologies to the witnesses since we had a vote. One followup
question if I might, Mr. Lampe. You told Senator Hollings that
Firestone only seeks confidentiality for trade secrets and the
size of the verdicts. Therefore, would Firestone support a
requirement that NHTSA be notified of lawsuit settlements
involving claims of safety problems with your tires?
Mr. Lampe. Yes, Senator. We would.
Senator Wyden. Question for Mr. Ono if I might. And I
understand that we have assistance for this. Mr. Ono, only
about 2 million of the 6.5 million tires covered by the recall
have now been replaced. So there is a recall that has been
going on for a month now. Do you find it acceptable that after
a month we still have potentially millions of tires that may be
deadly still on the roads?
Mr. Ono. As far as replacing two million tires in 1 month,
I am not satisfied with that. We have doubled the production
capacity of our factories domestically. And we have--that is
over the production level at the beginning of August. And also,
we have doubled the production of tires in Japan so that
customers can receive the replacement tires. We are airlifting
tires from Japan. So we are doing all that we can. And there is
no precedence to this, but in our industry we are having
customers replace their tires with our competitors' tires such
as Goodyear, General and Michelin.
Mr. Lampe. Senator Wyden, if I could, sir. I think the
point about the competitors' tires, it was after the recall was
announced when certainly we knew we did not have enough local
production on our own and Mr. Ono asked me the next day after
August 10 in fact to contact our competitors. And I personally
contacted a number of our major competitors who were very
supportive, and increased their production tremendously on this
size. And we can avail ourselves to the competitor tires as
Senator Wyden. Well, I will say, as I did in my opening
statement, I'm especially concerned about this. My State is one
of those in the rear with respect to the recall. And Oregonians
are very troubled about the prospect that it may be well into
next year. It is just critically important to me that this be
expedited. I want to hear about a time table that is
considerably sped up.
Mr. Lampe. Senator Wyden, I agree with you. But believe me,
Oregon is not being snubbed. We started replacing tires in
every state the day we made the announcement. We did not say
that we were going to do these states and these states and
these states. All we said was we were going to try to
prioritize some of the production for the states that had the
highest incidence. You, Senator, are very fortunate. You have a
very large, very successful dealer in Oregon. And in
Washington, Senator Gorton had the same question. Les Schwab,
who has told us last week that he alone--he alone--in his
stores has changed over 120,000 tires just that one dealership.
So I think we are making good progress. Is it good enough? It
will never be good enough, Senator. But good progress in the
State of Oregon.
Senator Wyden. Because I was out of the room, I am not sure
if this question was raised. But, as you know, the newspapers
this morning talked about significant management changes in the
United States with respect to Firestone. Can you tell us any
more about what is going to be pursued in that area?
Mr. Lampe. Senator, I cannot. I read that myself this
morning and I will have to get back to my office just to make
sure it is still there.
Senator Wyden. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
The Chairman. Thank you. Thank you for appearing before the
Mr. Lampe. Thank you, Senator McCain.
The Chairman. Now we would like to hear from Mr. Jac Nasser
who is the Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company. Mr.
Nasser, thank you for your patience. I apologize for the breaks
required by roll call votes. Your complete statement will be
made part of the record. But please take as much time as you
wish to illuminate the committee. Welcome.
STATEMENT OF JAC NASSER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, FORD MOTOR
Mr. Nasser. Thank you, very much. Good afternoon, Chairman
McCain, Senator Hollings, and Members of the Committee. I
appreciate this opportunity to update you and the American
people on the Firestone tire recall. But before I discuss the
Firestone tire recall, I would like to say a brief word about
the Ford Motor Company if I may.
Ford Motor Company is a company that throughout its history
has in its strength been its employees and its customers. I
have been with the Ford Motor Company for over thirty years. I
started as a trainee in Fort Australia. And I am honored to
lead this company into the 21st Century as we look after our
customers going forward.
I think as we have heard this morning in particular and
last week, you and the public have questions regarding the
Firestone recall. I am here to answer those questions. And I
will remain here until the Committee is satisfied.
We have had some good discussion this morning. And I think
it did get to the heart of the issue. And that is when did
people know there was a problem with the Firestone tires? What
have we done about it so far? And where are we heading in the
future? And I appreciate the comments from many of the Senators
who really concentrated on what do we all do collectively going
Let us start with when did Ford know that there was a
problem with the Firestone tires. I think it is worth repeating
that because tires are the only component of any vehicle that
are separately warranted, Ford did not know that there was a
defect with the tires until we virtually pried the claims data
from Firestone's hands in late July, early August, and analyzed
It was only then--and that was only a few days before the
recall was announced--that Ford engineers found conclusive
evidence at that point that the tires were defective. We then
demanded that Firestone pull the tires from the road.
I must say that as we look back, the first signs of this
problem developed in Saudi Arabia when our dealers reported
complaints about certain Firestone tires. At that time, we
immediately asked Firestone to investigate. Firestone did so.
And they told us that the tread separations were caused by
improper maintenance and road hazards. And I think you heard
some of that earlier in the discussions with the Committee. And
they said that those particular complaints were unique to that
At that point, we weren't convinced by those explanations.
So we asked Firestone to conduct additional tests on the tires.
And I must say that after each and every test, Firestone
reported that there was no defect in the tires. This did not
satisfy our Saudi customers. So we replaced the tires about a
I should add that at about the same time, we wanted to know
if our U.S. customers were having similar tire problems. And
earlier last year, we asked Firestone to review its U.S. data
in general. And we were assured by Firestone that there was no
problem in this country regarding Firestone tires.
When he went back, our data, the government safety data and
you heard from Mr. Slater and Ms. Bailey this morning, did not
show anything either. Despite this, we asked Firestone for one
more test. And Firestone examined tires in a special study in
Texas, Nevada and Arizona. And they reported back as before
that there was no defect to be found.
As you know, contrary to those repeated assurances, we
later learned a very different story from Firestone's
confidential claims data. And when we did, at that point in
August of this year, we insisted that Firestone recall the
Although I take no personal or professional pleasure in
saying it, Firestone failed to share critical claims data with
Ford that might have prompted the recall of these bad tires
sooner. And I should say that last week I listened in disbelief
as senior Firestone executives not only acknowledged that
Firestone had analyzed its claims data, but also identified
significant pattern of tread separations as early as 1998.
Yet, Firestone said nothing to anyone, including the Ford
Motor Company. This is not the candid and frank dialog that
Ford expects in its business relationships. And after
Firestone's testimony last week, we expressed Ford's profound
disappointment to the head of Bridgestone/Firestone in Japan.
It has been said before this morning, my purpose is not to
finger point, but simply to tell you that at each step Ford
took the initiative to uncover this problem and find a
solution. We agree that we--everyone--needs to do a better job
in this area. And looking back if I have one regret, looking
back on all of this, it is that we did not ask Firestone the
right questions sooner.
What have we done so far? As I said earlier, we started by
insisting that Firestone recall the bad tires. And to encourage
and even prod Firestone to take immediate action, Ford offered
to share the cost of the recall. And we also requested the use
of competitors' tires.
I then made a public commitment to our customers that Ford
would dedicate its resources to support the Firestone recall.
And in just 4 weeks--this is probably one of the fastest
recalls in history--in just 4 weeks, over two million tires
have been replaced. And we have worked very closely together
with the rest of the global tire industry to increase tire
As mentioned earlier, we shutdown production at three Ford
plants to free up replacement tires that can be sent to our
dealers for our customers. And just days ago, I extended the
shutdown to free up even more replacement tires. This is all
encouraging, but it is not good enough because we need to look
And what do we need to do as we go forward? Mr. Chairman,
there are almost three million Goodyear tires on Ford Explorers
that have not had a tread separation problem here in the U.S.
market. And data compiled by the Department of Transportation
shows that the Explorer has a safety record that is second to
none, particularly when you compare it to the average passenger
car and competitive sports utility vehicle.
So based on these facts, and that's what we need to be
driven by here, based on these facts, we know that this is a
Firestone tire issue, not a vehicle issue. But regardless, we
have got to all prevent this from happening again.
Last week, I announced that Ford would develop an early
warning reporting system with tire companies that provides
information on real world performance of tires. Since last
week, we have actively pursued this particular idea with our
tire suppliers and we have been very encouraged by their
I also announced that Ford would provide the Federal safety
agency and its counterparts in other countries information on
our safety actions around the world. And we will do this in
advance of legislation that is pending. And from this point
forward, when we know something, so will the world in terms of
In addition, this was mentioned also earlier, I have
requested that Ford's product development experts look into the
feasibility of a dashboard indicator for future models which
would alert customers to a potential tire problem. I can also
announce to you today that later this year, beginning with our
new Explorer, we will offer our customers a choice of tires.
Mr. Chairman, I want you and our customers to know that we
at Ford will not rest until every bad tire is replaced. And I
will do everything in my power as President of the Ford Motor
Company to maintain the confidence and trust of our customers.
Thank you. And I would be pleased to answer any questions at
The Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Nasser. According to a New
York Times article yesterday, Ford was informed of this problem
as early as September 1998 by one of its own executives in a
memo detailing problems with tread separation, Saudi Arabia,
Oman, Venezuela. Then there was another memo--written by an
executive in Venezuela, January 12, 1999 that suggests Ford
officials in that country were aware of the problem of
Firestone tires shedding their tread and causing accidents. The
existence of these memos raises questions about when Ford Motor
Company knew of this problem. I would like you to respond to
Mr. Nasser. Mr. Chairman, let me take the Middle East
market and Venezuela because they are very different. They are
different tires, different markets, different vehicles. In
Venezuela, a very confused situation. Seventy-five percent of
the tires in Venezuela are locally manufactured. They are a
different tire as Firestone had indicated. There was
mislabeling of tires, tires that did not meet the appropriate
specification. And in Venezuela, the accident data base is
very, very poor.
Despite all of that, we found that there were problems in
terms of the Firestone tires. And we wanted Firestone to come
along with us in terms of a recall. And they refused to do so.
We went ahead because we knew there was a particular problem
around the Venezuelan situation and the defects of those tires
made in Venezuela. It had nothing to do with what was going on
in the U.S. market.
In Saudi Arabia, these were 16 inch tires. And they were on
a variety of vehicles. Test after test we did together with
Firestone and independently. And in every case, when we went
through and asked the question what was going on in the Saudi
market, we at the same time went back and asked Firestone to
check the U.S. data, every time, including the----
The Chairman. So you are saying you knew about it and you
did something about it.
Mr. Nasser. Not only did we do something about it, but we
actually examined all the data. And perhaps now is a good time
to look at if you could look at the shot that is on Firestone
tires in the U.S., that is the one that shows the cross hatches
in terms of the bar. What this chart shows is that the number
of reports of tread separations on a variety of Firestone
tires--and it is based on the claims data that we received from
Firestone on July the 28th of the year.
And if you look at the cross hatch which is the longest
bar, the worst tires are the ATX tires produced at Decatur. And
these show defects per million tires. And their failure rate,
the Decatur tires, is ten times more than any other tire shown
on this chart. In Venezuela, they were local tires. In Saudi
Arabia, they were the tires that were actually on the right
hand side of that chart. So we had no reason to believe at that
point that we had a problem. And all the Firestone data that we
were shown would indicate very similar trends.
The Chairman. There is an internal document, which I will
give you a copy of, Algizira vehicles. It is to John Thompson
who is the Director of Operations and Marketing in Ford Motor
Company saying, as you know, ``this concern goes back to mid-
1997 when we first notified you of this concern. I have to
state that I believe the situation to be of key concern which
could endanger both the vehicle and more importantly user
vehicles. So I am asking what is going on. Do we have a
fatality before any action is taken on this subject?'' Are you
aware of this?
Mr. Nasser. I am aware of it and I am proud of employees
like that. Because in the Ford Motor Company, we actually
encourage people to come out and talk about issues as they come
out. And what we did there is in Saudi Arabia we went ahead and
replaced the tires. Because as Firestone mentioned earlier,
conditions are different. By the way, when we went to the
Goodyear tires in Saudi Arabia, we have not had any problems.
The Chairman. Well, again, I am glad you are proud of this
individual, but he says, I have to say it again, ``I am very
disappointed that no one has had the decency to send me a
letter explaining what is happening.'' Was he responded to?
Mr. Nasser. I am not aware of the response, but the fact
that he felt that it was an environment where he could speak
about it and talk about it I think it's something that we
should encourage. We went back in Saudi Arabia and we replaced
The Chairman. Should you also encourage that he be
Mr. Nasser. Senator, we replaced all the tires in Saudi
The Chairman. All right. I thank you. I have two more brief
questions. There is going to be a witness. And I see you have a
chart there that I cannot quite see. It says Explorer's safer
than passenger cars. A witness on the next panel is going to
make the case that the combination of these tires on an SUV
like the Explorer can lead to a fatal rollover. Obviously, you
do not agree with that.
Mr. Nasser. We do not. But you can accuse us of being
biased and you are probably right. But let us deal with the
facts. This is government data based on Department of
Transportation. And the data clearly shows that over a 10-year
period, and there have been almost four million explorers sold
over that period, the Explorer has a better record and serious
accidents than the average passenger vehicle and also the
average compact sports utility vehicle.
In addition to that, the government data shows that not
only is the Explorer safer than the average sports utility
vehicle in serious accidents, it is also safer in rollover
accidents by a substantial number. Both those percentages,
Explorer is safer by almost 30 percent. And this has been true
since 1991 when Explorer was introduced.
The Chairman. Going back to our previous conversation, the
recall in Saudi Arabia took place in August 1999, is that
Mr. Nasser. That is true.
The Chairman. And this letter was written in 1997.
Mr. Nasser. Senator, I could take you back in terms of a--
letter-by-letter, customer-by-customer. In every single case,
we kept going back to Firestone saying is there a problem?
Every time we went back, the answer was no defects, customer
abuse, unusual conditions. Every time we came back to the U.S.
market and asked the same question. Are there any defect trends
in the U.S.? Should we be doing something in other markets? And
I think you heard earlier the Firestone reaction was we don't
have any defects. We should really not go ahead with the
The Chairman. Finally, in his testimony this morning,
Secretary Slater urged the conferees of the Transportation
appropriations bill to remove provisions that would prohibit
the implementation of a consumer rollover rating system until a
study is conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. It is
my understanding that the study requirement was put into the
bill at the behest of the automotive industry. Many believe
that the rollover propensity of the Explorer contributes to the
severity of these accidents. Would Ford commit to working with
NHTSA to implement an appropriate rollover rating system
without the further delay of a study by the National Academy of
Mr. Nasser. I am not a legislative expert clearly, Senator.
The Chairman. You have some very high priced help here,
Mr. Nasser. We would support that proposal.
The Chairman. Thank you. I appreciate that. Senator Bryan.
Senator Bryan. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr.
Nasser, you say in your prepared remarks that Ford did not know
that there was a defect with the tires until they received
confidential claims data from Firestone in July of this year,
being 2000. I must say to the layman, this strains Ford's
credibility. Because we have had recalls in Saudi Arabia,
Malaysia, Thailand, Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador. And if the
testimony of Firestone is correct, they did not agree with
those recalls, but those were initiated by Ford. My first
question is did Ford initiate those recalls which I have
referenced without the concurrence of Firestone?
Mr. Nasser. We did.
Senator Bryan. You did. So you have got at least a half a
dozen countries and maybe more. Give me the benefit of Ford's
thinking. I mean, I cannot believe that a company that is as
prestigious with all of its history and part of the American
automobile icon is saying to Americans that their safety is of
less importance than the safety in these other countries. What
was Ford's thinking in terms of not initiating a recall much
more timely than it did in these other countries?
Mr. Nasser. Senator, when you start to look at the recall
actions in Saudi Arabia and in South America, they were very
different markets, very different products in the case of
Venezuela and Columbia and Ecuador. As you heard from
Firestone, they were different tires. And in the case of Saudi
Arabia, every time we came back and we asked--and I think it
might be appropriate at this point if I can show you some of
the data and just indicate to you that every single accident to
us is very important. And we react to every single one. So it
is not that we knew of a problem and did not react. We just did
not know that there were issues here in the U.S.
Senator Bryan. Let me follow up if I may with that. All
right. You say you did not know. Now you do know that there is
a problem. And literally millions of people are concerned about
the ATX, the ATXII and the Wilderness. And yet, the recall
effort has been limited. There are many in the safety advocacy
field who say, look. All of those tires have been recalled.
Now, your premise is, look. We did not know. Information
was not provided to us. Now we know there is a problem. Would
it not be the prudent and responsible sort of thing? Would it
not be in the best interest of Ford Motor Company as a
responsible corporate citizen to say, look. We are not going to
take any chances with the health and safety of our customers.
We are going to recall them all and give an opportunity for
replacement. What would be wrong with that approach?
Mr. Nasser. That is exactly the right approach. And that is
exactly what we are doing. Because if you look at that chart
which talks about Firestone tires in the U.S., we are
concentrating on those bad tires. There is not much point
replacing good tires with good tires. And as Firestone
indicated, and the tire industry would tell you, it would
actually get in the road of getting bad tires off the vehicles
in the industry at this point.
Senator Bryan. Let me just say, Mr. Nasser, I do not think
the public sees it that way. I mean, we are quibbling now with
what the engineering data might indicate. There is a concern on
the part of the average citizen who does not have the benefit
of all of the sophisticated engineering that Ford Motor Company
can engage and say, look. I have a serious question as to
whether the automobile I am driving, the Ford Explorer, with
these tires, is safe. It just strikes to me that in light of
what many of us would say would be a very slow response to the
situation by both Ford and Firestone that you want to be a
proactive and say, look. We are going to replace all of those
tires, admittedly establishing a priority for doing so of those
categories that you previously outlined.
Mr. Nasser. Senator, I think we spent the whole morning,
particularly with Ms. Bailey and Mr. Slater, talking about
using facts to manage safety, using technical input to be able
to make sure that not only are we making the right decisions,
but that we have our priorities set. And if you look at the
data there, the tires that are not being recalled are world
class tires. You just can't get any better. So I do not really
see the point at this point in replacing those good tires with
further good tires and taking the tire industry's capability to
change over the bad tires.
Senator Bryan. Let me just ask, because my time is running
out. There have been a number of suggestions that would be made
to strengthen the role of NHTSA. One of those is to require by
law notification whenever a company issues a recall in a
foreign country. Would Ford agree or disagree with that?
Mr. Nasser. We would agree with that.
Senator Bryan. And how about extending the period of record
retention which apparently is only 5 years now. There is a
sense that that ought to be a longer period of time. Would Ford
agree or disagree with that?
Mr. Nasser. Not only do we agree, but we actually continue
with record retention way beyond the legislative period.
Senator Bryan. And increasing the amount of civil penalties
which many believe is not adequate, would Ford agree or
disagree with that proposal?
Mr. Nasser. We would agree to the extent that it can put
more teeth into the legislation and that it actually improves
real world safety.
Senator Bryan. Do you agree that there may be
circumstances--and I am not asking you to indicate that the
circumstances in this case would be one of those. But that the
situation could be so egregious that indeed criminal penalties
would be appropriate.
Mr. Nasser. We agree with that.
Senator Bryan. You agree with that. And to increase the
statute of limitations on recalls, would Ford agree or disagree
Mr. Nasser. We agree.
Senator Bryan. And to amend the rule regarding the statute
of limitations on reporting of defects, would Ford agree or
disagree with that?
Mr. Nasser. We agree. And we presently abide by a longer
Senator Bryan. And would you agree or disagree with
requiring manufacturers to report lawsuits?
Mr. Nasser. That's part of our proposal. We think that was
part of the missing information link that the Federal agency
and the automotive manufacturers were not sharing.
Senator Bryan. And let me say that I complement Ford on
that. The final question is that there has been some question
about document withholding and all of that sort of thing. My
question to you, Mr. Nasser, is Ford prepared to make available
to NHTSA, to our Committee, all internal memorandums,
documents, letters, any information that relates to this issue
without being specifically requested by NHTSA or our Committee
to identify the particular document? What I am asking is a full
and complete disclosure of all information that the Ford
automobile company has that deals with this issue. Are you
prepared to make that commitment?
Mr. Nasser. We are. And we have done that. And the last
time I looked, we had supplied 100 pages of correspondence and
information and technical data.
Senator Bryan. I thank you for your answer. And I thank
you, Mr. Chairman, for letting me go over a couple of minutes.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Bryan. Senator Abraham.
Senator Abraham. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Nasser, you
commented on the chart here to the left. I was wondering if you
would talk a little bit about the other chart that has been put
Senator Bryan. I think as we have been following this over
the last couple of weeks, there has been at least the
impression created that your company was inundated with claims
and complaints that were unheated. And I am wondering--I am
having a little bit of trouble understanding some of the
numbers up there and what they refer to. But this seems to
address that question. And I am wondering if you might tell us
a little bit about the magnitude of these so-called charges,
claims, whatever, that you want to lump them together. But the
combination, how much had you previously heard from these
sources prior to your actions?
Mr. Nasser. We have really been looking at tread
separation. I think the whole industry looks at it for many,
many years. And interestingly enough, I was reading in the
newspaper that we have known about these tread separations for
years and years and they have been a problem in the industry.
And that there have been lawsuits and so on.
And what I have here on this chart--and it is not even
additive--but we added them all together just to get an impact.
We added up all the lawsuits, all the property damage claims,
all the reports that owners had sent to us, all the dealer
reports, all the customer goodwill actions that we had taken.
And we put them all together. And we tracked them from 1991
through to the year 2000. And when you add all of those
together, you get two reports per year for every million tires
So it is a very, very small number. We review this on a
regular basis. We also review the NHTSA data on a regular basis
as Mr. Slater and Ms. Bailey indicated this morning, their
numbers were equally small. And this is in contrast by the way
to the chart on the left hand side. Because the scale--this is
defects per million and we were not getting more than two per
million in any year. If you go over to the left, the Decatur
ATX tires were at 241 defects per million. So you had 240
compared to two. And that's a dramatic difference in terms of
I would also like to point one other thing out. When you
look at the Firestone tires in the U.S., that is a combination
of 26 PSI, 32 PSI and interestingly enough, even if you go over
to the right hand side there, there are 26 PSI tires that are
world class that are not included in this recall. And that is
further evidence that it is a tire defect issue.
Senator Abraham. In other words, those numbers there
indicate the amount of complaints total all those sources that
are listed above per million tires.
Mr. Nasser. Yes.
Senator Abraham. So in the year 1999, it was 1.2 complaints
per million. OK. Will you supply the Committee with all of that
information? Because I think it is pretty interesting.
Mr. Nasser. We will do that.
Senator Abraham. Second question I had. The question that
was just posed to you by Senator Bryant concerned trying to
address tires that had not--did not have problems as a matter
of broadening your efforts. I was at the truck plant in Wayne,
Michigan a couple of weeks ago before the original issues came
forward and talked to a lot of people on the line there. I then
read just a few days later that that facility had been
converted over to help address this issue. And I wondered if
you might explain to the committee some of the other actions
that are being taken by the company to try to address just the
tire problems that we know about as opposed to situations where
the tires on vehicles are good and will be replaced by other
good tires. What are you doing cumulatively to try to do that
in addition to that one facility? And you might just mention
that facility because it is obviously one of our significant
employers in the State.
Mr. Nasser. We have close down three of our facilities on a
temporary basis so we can convert production tires to tires
that can be used for replacement tires for our customers to
replace bad tires. And that will be 3 weeks and 3 plants.
Our whole attitude, strategy, everything that we are doing
in the Ford Motor Company today is aimed at improving the
situation for our customers. You do not close plants down
lightly, Senator, as you know. And you certainly don't close
plants down that have got products lightly. But we did that
because we felt it was important that we do everything possible
to get as many good tires out in the hands of our customers to
replace bad tires. Now, I personally spoke to the CEOs of all
of the tire companies so that we could not only encourage them
to increase production, but to actually assist them into
putting additional molds into production. And that is
happening. We feel confident at this point that by the end of
November, you probably heard when the recall was first
announced that it was going to be spring of next year. We went
berserk when we heard that. That was just unacceptable. And the
Ford Motor Company, and I must say the tire industry in total
including Firestone, have been working together to accelerate
that rectification program as quickly as possible.
Senator Abraham. Have the other companies been responsive
to these requests?
Mr. Nasser. They have been very responsible.
Senator Abraham. And do you feel that you can obtain an
adequate amount to continue to conduct the recall at an
Mr. Nasser. We have been so far. And I think it will
actually improve as we look out over the next 3 or 4 weeks.
Senator Abraham. Well, the Wayne plant manufacturers, the
expedition I think along with some other vehicles, what is the
impact on the production of those other vehicles then? What do
you foresee this year in terms of vehicle production levels as
a result of the transfer over to these activities?
Mr. Nasser. Well, we have clearly lost some production,
several thousand in each of those plants. But that is not what
is our focus at the moment. Our focus is how do we get out our
customers more peace of mind with good tires?
Senator Abraham. Thank you. I was actually going to ask
some of the questions Senator Bryan did about your response to
or consideration of some of the legislation or proposals that
we have had before us. But he kind of covered the entire list.
So, Mr. Chairman, I notice that my light is on. And I thank you
for giving me a chance to ask these questions.
The Chairman. Thank you, Senator Abraham. I am sorry for
the late hour, Mr. Nasser. Thank you for your patience. And we
will obviously solicit your input between now and next
Wednesday when we propose legislation before the Committee to
be marked up. And I thank you for appearing today.
Senator Abraham. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Nasser follows:]
Prepared Statement of Jac Nasser, President and Chief Executive
Officer, Ford Motor Company
Good morning, Chairman McCain and Members of the Committee. I am
Jac Nasser, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company. I appreciate the
opportunity to be here today to discuss Firestone's tire recall. At
Ford, we are very concerned that there are defective tires on some of
our vehicles and we will not rest until every bad tire is replaced. I
am here today because I know that you and the public have questions
about the tire recall, and I want to make sure your questions are
I have been with Ford Motor Company for more than 30 years. I am
proud of the great contributions Ford Motor Company has made to improve
the standard of living of millions of people around the world. We are
deeply committed to our customers, and clearly their safety is
uppermost on our minds.
As you know, Firestone manufactured and warranted the recalled
tires. However, because so many of these tires were used as original
equipment on Ford products, we have taken extraordinary steps to
support this recall and ensure the safety of our customers. We are
working relentlessly to find and replace bad tires with good tires.
That includes making sure that we understand the scope of the problem
and finding the root cause. And we continue to be open about any data,
statistics or information that we have--and will share any new
information as soon as we get it. Ford Motor Company is absolutely
committed to doing the right thing to protect our customers and to
maintain their trust.
Why This is the Right Action
We believe Firestone's recall is the right action. First, we
strongly support Firestone's decision to recall 15'' ATX and Decatur-
built Wilderness AT tires. Based on the Firestone data we have
analyzed, we've determined that these tires are the problem tires.
Charts summarizing our detailed analysis of the Firestone data are
included in Attachments 1 through 9.
We felt so strongly that this was the right action that we agreed
to share the cost of the recall with Firestone--as an incentive for
them to do the recall immediately and to allow our dealers to use makes
other than Firestone as replacement tires.
What we still don't know is why these tires fail. We are working
hard on that.
This is a tire issue, not a vehicle issue. We have millions of
Goodyear tires on 1995 through 1997 Explorers--the same specification
tire operating under the same conditions, including 26 psi--and they
haven't experienced these problems. Furthermore, non-Decatur made 15''
Wilderness tires operate at 26 psi and have not demonstrated tread
Ford products--particularly the Explorer--have been highlighted in
this recall because most of the recalled tires were used as original
equipment solely on Ford products. The Explorer was introduced to the
public in 1990 with Firestone ATX tires, which stayed in production
until mid 1996, when the new Wilderness tire was introduced. During the
1996-1998 model years about 500,000 Explorers were produced with
Goodyear tires. The 15'' ATX and Wilderness tires were also installed
as original equipment on Ford Ranger and F-150. No other vehicle
manufacturer used this type of ATX or Wilderness tire as original
I would like to emphasize that there is nothing unique about the
Explorer that is related to tread separations. The documents we
provided to NHTSA conclusively show that prior to going into
production, the Explorer met exceedingly stringent performance and
The Explorer has had an exemplary safety record over the last
decade. The most recent data from the Department of Transportation show
that the Explorer has a lower fatality rate than both the average
passenger car and competitive SUV, as shown in Attachment 10.
Additionally, Explorer's fatality rate in rollover accidents is 26
percent lower than other compact SUVs (Attachment 11).
Actions We Have Taken
Now, let's talk about the actions Ford has taken to support the
recall and why we believe these are the right actions.
I want to emphasize that Ford did not know there was a defect with
the tires until we received the confidential claims data from Firestone
in July of this year. It has been standard practice in the automotive
industry that tires are the only part of the vehicle not warranted by
the vehicle manufacturer. Because tires are separately warranted, they
are the only part for which vehicle manufacturers do not receive field
Looking back, the first signs of trouble came in Saudi Arabia. When
reports of tread separation first came to our attention, we asked
Firestone to investigate. This included shipping problem tires back to
the U.S. for evaluation as well as rigorous high speed testing. They
concluded that the tire failures were due to external causes, such as
poor repairs, road hazard damage, and extreme operating conditions.
But, given the problems our customers were having, we decided to
replace the tires with a more puncture resistant tire.
Another market where we experienced tire problems is Venezuela. The
situation in Venezuela is complicated by the fact that about three-
quarters of the tires were locally produced. Again, Firestone concluded
that the tread separations were caused by poor repairs, road hazard
damage, and extreme operating conditions. In May of this year, we began
replacing all the Firestone tires on Ford Explorers and certain light
trucks in Venezuela. As the old tires were returned to us, we examined
them and found that 15% of the Venezuelan-made tires had evidence of
Concern about the safety of all of our customers, including our
U.S. customers, drove us to look aggressively for evidence of a defect
in the U.S. at the same time we were taking actions overseas. As early
as April of 1999, we were searching all available databases--our own
and the government's. We asked Firestone to check its records. And we
had new tires tested under three separate, severe test conditions to
try to cause tread separation to happen. Last Fall, we kicked off a
tire inspection test program in Texas, Arizona and Nevada. No defect
trend was found.
Because there have been a number of questions regarding our
investigation of data on tread separations, I would like to explain the
data available to Ford and our review of these data. We receive data
which track quality issues from owners, dealers and our warranty
claims. These data are monitored regularly. We also watch property
damage claims, personal injury claims, and lawsuits filed against Ford.
In conjunction with our investigation of overseas issues, we reviewed
all of these data sources and found no trend of tread separation issues
on Firestone tires in the U.S.
We also looked at two government databases. NHTSA's Vehicle Owner
Questionnaire (VOQ) reports track consumer complaints filed with NHTSA.
Also, the Department of Transportation maintains data on vehicle
fatalities (FARS). Again, neither of these government sources revealed
an obvious defect trend.
It is important to clarify that there are several types of
performance data maintained by tire manufacturers that are not
regularly available to auto companies. First, tire manufacturers keep
adjustment data, similar to what we call warranty data in the auto
industry. Adjustments may cover issues ranging from manufacturing
defects to abnormal wear or tire appearance issues. Tire makers also
keep claims data, which represent customer requests for payment
resulting from property damage or personal injury. Finally, tire
companies also keep track of lawsuits filed against them claiming
injury related to tire defects. None of these data sources are
available to automakers on a regular basis.
Because the tires are warranted by Firestone, much of the quality
and performance data is included in Firestone's internal databases, but
not Ford's. Additionally, property damage, personal injury and legal
claims would most often be filed with the tire maker, not the auto
manufacturer. For example, while there were over 2,700 claims included
in Firestone's data, a review of Ford's records show that as of May 10,
2000, approximately 50 claims had been filed with Ford.
When NHTSA opened their investigation, and required Firestone to
assemble and provide data on property damage, personal injury, and
lawsuits, Ford insisted on obtaining that data as well. When we
received the data late in July, we quickly analyzed it and identified
the problem tires that were recalled August 9.
As I said, our top priority is to replace faulty tires as fast as
possible. As of September 7, about 1.8 million tires have been
replaced--about 28 percent of the total population of affected tires.
We worked with the tire industry to increase production of 15-inch
tires which will increase supply by more than 250,000 tires per month
by the end of September. We suspended production at three assembly
plants for two weeks beginning at the end of August, adding
approximately 70,000 tires to the replacement population. On Friday of
last week, I extended the suspension for another week. We have engaged
over 3,200 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers to perform tire
We've also made a major effort to communicate information about the
Firestone recall to our customers. For example, we have opened an
additional call center to deal specifically with inquiries on the tire
recall. We are using our website to provide detailed information on the
recall action. And we are running national and local newspaper and
television ads to alert customers to the recall and show them how to
tell if their vehicles are affected.
Our support of this recall extends to our full cooperation with
NHTSA. We have provided extensive disclosure to NHTSA in regards to
this action. Our policy is to be as open as possible, sharing what we
know, when we know it.
Last week I made a commitment to work with the industry to
implement an ``early warning system'' to detect the first signs of tire
defects on vehicles already on the road. This system must utilize
comprehensive real world data that--we now know--is so critical to
spotting defect patterns. I also committed that Ford will advise U.S.
safety authorities of safety actions taken in overseas markets and
This has been a difficult situation. Our first priority is to
replace bad tires with good tires as quickly as possible. The safety,
trust and peace of mind of our consumers are paramount to Ford Motor
Testimony of Ford Motor Company
Index of Attachments to Written Testimony
1. LTread Separation Claims Rate for Firestone 15-inch and 16-inch
2. LClaims Data--Claims for Firestone Tires by Tire Size
3. LClaims Data--Claims for Firestone P235/75R15 ATX and Wilderness
Tires by Type of Claim
4. LClaims Data--Tread Separation Claims for Firestone Tires by
5. LClaims Data--Tread Separation Claims Rate for Firestone P235/
75R15 ATX and Wilderness Tires for 1996 Tire Production Year
6. LClaims Data--Tread Separation Claims Rate for Firestone P235/
75R15 Wilderness Tires by Tire Production Year and Plant
7. LClaims Data--Tread Separation Claims Rate for Firestone P235/
75R15 ATX by Time in Service at Claim, Tire Production Year, and Plant
8. LClaims Data--Tread Separation Claims Rate for Firestone P235/
75R15 Wilderness by Time in Service at Claim, Tire Production Year, and
Plant (Scale 0 to 700)
9. LClaims Data--Tread Separation Claims Rate for Firestone P235/
75R15 Wilderness by Time in Service at Claim, Tire Production Year, and
Plant (Scale 0 to 70)
10. LFatality Rate Comparison--Explorer Compared to Passenger Cars
and Compact SUVs
11. LFatality Rate Comparison--Explorer Compared to Other SUVs--All
Accident Types and Rollover Accidents
The Chairman. Thank you very much. Finally, we will hear
from Ms. Joan Claybrook, who is the President of Public
Citizen, and Mr. Clarence Ditlow, who is the Executive Director
of the Center for Auto Safety. It is nice to see you again, Ms.
Claybrook. Thank you. And obviously proceed with your
testimony. And I want to thank both of you for your patience
this morning. I apologize for the delay. But I am sure you
probably expected that given the interest that is focused on
this issue. Ms. Claybrook, welcome back.
STATEMENT OF JOAN CLAYBROOK,
PRESIDENT, PUBLIC CITIZEN
Ms. Claybrook. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I would
like to say that I am going to summarize my rather extensive
testimony. I would like to submit it for the record and also
The Chairman. Yours too, Mr. Ditlow.
Ms. Claybrook. We have prepared for the committee a
chronology of the case that we have before us, looking at a lot
of documents from inside the companies that have now come to
light, and also integrating that information with the lawsuits
that have been filed and with other events to try to establish
what really happened here.
It is my belief that the companies have known about this
for longer than they should have, and that they have kept it
secret when they should not have done so. Additionally, I would
say that there are some unknown facts still today. While a
hundred boxes have been delivered to the Department of
Transportation, they are not yet publicly available. The DOT in
rulemaking puts all of the documents immediately on the web.
But for an investigation such as this, they do it much more
slowly. And you have to go down there and personally get
documents. I would hope that one of the things you could
encourage the department to do with some of the review that is
now going on is to put all of the investigation documents on
the web so that we can all be more effective in evaluating what
is going on.
The Chairman. We will do that. My staff informs me we will
Ms. Claybrook. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I
would say that the major concern that we have here with this
defect is that in the course of designing the Explorer, the
manufacturer had some problems with rollover tests and decided
to lower the PSI, the pounds per square inch, of this tire to
26, rather than making some design changes in the vehicle. I do
understand that they have made some design changes in the year
2000 to the vehicles that are coming up, but we believe that it
is most unfortunate that they did not do so at an earlier time.
In 1996 when Ford was producing its vehicles and the tires
were being produced in Venezuela, I just wanted to make sure
that the Committee was aware that Ford instructed that the
tires in Venezuela be upgraded from the U.S. tires and that a
nylon ply be added to the tires manufactured in Venezuela. And
also, there was a stiffer shock absorber and some reinforcement
added to the suspension.
I agree with the lawyers inside Firestone and Ford that
they did have an obligation under current law to notify the
Department of Transportation of foreign recalls. There is a
provision in the statute that says they have to supply DOT all
notices to dealers. But there's sort of an overarching, extra
territoriality provision in U.S. law that says that U.S. law
cannot govern foreign operations. But this was a U.S.
manufacturer with a U.S. made product notifying dealers abroad
of concerns about what they were selling in the United States.
There are a number of documents also that have come to
light, some of which you have highlighted which show that there
was quite a bit of data available to these companies along the
way. I compare this recall to the Firestone 500--and I brought
a picture of it. This was an investigation of 20 years ago. It
looked similar to what is happening today. There are many other
similarities, including a coverup by the company then. When
everything was said and done, those top officials were all
removed from the company. And we thought it was a new day at
Firestone. But apparently it was not.
Also, the company accused owners of not properly inflating
their tires or of abusing their tires then as they have today.
Except for in testimony this morning when they discounted that.
To me the most important thing to come out of all of this,
this tragedy for the American public, is new legislation. And I
commend the Chair and his efforts in announcing the markup next
week. We are very enthusiastic about this. We will do anything
that we can to help the committee to raise that maximum
penalty, now $925,000, which is a joke. And we would urge that
there be criminal penalties included here as there are for the
Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection
Agency, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. NHTSA is
one of the few agencies that does not have authority to bring
Also, we support the extension of time for the retention of
documents, statute of limitations and for self-certification.
Right now, Mr. Chairman, if a company certifies its product to
meet NHTSA standards, it need not test it ahead of time. Such
testing should be a mandatory requirement.
I took a brief look at the proposal by the Secretary which
they are sending up to Congress today. And I certainly endorse
the additional authorities that he has proposed.
I would like to say one thing about the budget. I think we
ought to look at it this way, just as an example for someone
such as yourself who is so knowledgeable about the Defense
Department: We spend billions of dollars on defense, but more
members of the military are killed in motor vehicle crashes
than are killed during military duty. And that seems to drive
the point home to me.
I do believe that there are----
The Chairman. I think you make a good point. My point was
that every year at the end of the year, and we are about to
reach that point again, where in a smoke filled room somewhere,
there's billions--billions--maybe tens of billions--added in
all kinds of pork barrel projects, all kinds of obscene and
outrageous things. At least you would think that with those
tens of billions perhaps, maybe a few million could have been
added to NHTSA's budget in their zeal to increase all of the
spending. See my point? That was my point.
Ms. Claybrook. Oh, I know. I know your point. And I
completely agree with it. But the problem for NHTSA is that it
is a regulatory agency. It is Uncle Sam, not Uncle Sugar. There
are two different entities up here unfortunately.
The third point I would make is that we believe that there
should be consideration of an expanded recall. But all of the
data is not yet on the public record, and I will not go into
all of the particulars. I brought two tires here today. One is
the 15 inch and one is the 16 inch. The 16 inch is not being
recalled. The 15 inch is. You can see that they have a very
similar pattern of failure. One of the patterns is that these
tires do not fail in the early years of production, but in the
later years after they are on the road for some time, the 16
inch Wilderness, this one, was not manufactured--the Wilderness
tire was not manufactured and on the road until 1996.
And since data is usually a year or 2 years behind an
evaluation, we do not yet have all the data on the Wilderness
tire. We certainly do not have the most current information.
The evaluation by Ford Motor Company of the Firestone data,
claims data, to define this recall was current as of the 1st of
May only. That brings me to a point that I emphasize and that
is the system of data and evaluation and the process that
sparks a recall inside of NHTSA.
Any statistical analysis is flawed if the data set that you
are using is flawed. Unfortunately, if you base conclusions on
claims or from consumer complaints, you must be aware they are
a small portion of what is actually happening out there on the
road. And to measure it from the tires as they did at DOT, 90
claims or 46 claims or complaints against the 40 million tires
that were manufactured is totally irrelevant. You have to look
at factors like: are there deaths? Are there injuries? Is there
a catastrophic problem? In this case, the accidents were a
catastrophic type of event where people were doing what they
are supposed to do and then find themselves terribly injured or
their familiy members dead.
One of the things that is missing right now on the record
is information about what tests Firestone did and what tests
Ford did of the 26 PSI-inflated tire. I do not think that that
data is publicly available yet. I do not think that it is
available to your Committee. I would suggest that it be
subpoenaed if you do not get it. You have asked them to give it
to you voluntarily. This data should be submitted because,
under current law, companies do not have to test the exact tire
or product before they certify it.
I do not believe, as it was revealed in the House side,
that Ford ever did tests at 26 PSI, which is a very low PSI for
this vehicle. I do not know about Firestone. But I think that
you ought to demand that they submit that information to your
committee immediately. Without it, we do not really know the
extent to which these tires were first tested or what the tests
showed. That information would greatly help to define this
The Chairman. We will ask for it.
Ms. Claybrook. Thank you. We have been through the
discussion of NHTSA. So I will not raise that issue other than
as a concern about the way that they evaluate statistical data.
I certainly endorse your call to have an Inspector General
investigation of this. I would ask that the IG look in
particular at this whole issue of statistical evaluation,
because sometimes when NHTSA is doing investigations of
defects, they close their investigation because they cannot
find a statistical correlation. An example is a door lock case
I had suggested that they look at. And they closed the
investigation. But you cannot find statistics on whether a door
lock does not work in the statistical data base where the doors
pop open but do not stay broken after an accident.
Finally, I would ask that in your legislation, Mr.
Chairman, that you consider giving NHTSA the charge of issuing
an upgraded tire standard by a certain date, an upgraded roof
crush standard by a certain date. I do not know whether you are
aware, but the roof crush standard is also 32 years old. And
when you look at the rollovers, look what happens to the roof.
That should not happen to a roof in a rollover. And what the
standard says is that on a static basis, you put onto a car,
one and a half times its unloaded weight and that is the
standard for rollover. It is ridiculous that it is not a
Furthermore, the tire quality grading standard applies only
to car tires, not to SUV and truck tires. Also, there needs to
be a rollover prevention standard. Right now, the arguments in
the appropriations committee are over consumer information
requirements. But there also needs to be a minimum standard, at
least for SUVs that have a propensity to roll over.
I had to laugh as I listened to the testimony about the
tire inflation indicator device because I proposed this in 1978
after the first Firestone recall. All of the industry then
opposed this measure to tell the consumer when there is low
tire inflation, and to put it on the dashboard.
I have several other minor proposals for inclusion in the
legislation. We appreciate very much the work you are doing,
your willingness to move very quickly. I do not think that this
Congress should go home and ask people to vote for them until
they fix this problem and can assure their consumers and
constituents that this will not happen again. Thank you, very
[The prepared statement of Ms. Claybrook follows:]
Prepared Statement of Joan Claybrook,
President, Public Citizen
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am pleased to accept your invitation to testify today on the
Firestone tire defect that has killed at least 88 and injured 250
people, most of them in Ford Explorers. I am President of Public
Citizen, a national public interest organization founded by Ralph Nader
in 1971 with 150,000 members nationwide. I served as Administrator of
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S.
Department of Transportation from 1977 to 1981. This agency is
responsible for administering the recall of the Firestone tires. The
Firestone 500 recall occurred in 1978 when I was Administrator.
Much has been written and broadcast in the past month about the
lethal combination of Ford Explorers and Firestone tires. This is a
design defect exacerbated by the fact that Ford required a low
inflation pressure of 26 psi to mitigate rollover problems with these
vehicles. Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires on Ford Explorers
are overheating with highway use, causing the tread to separate and the
SUVs to experience catastrophic crashes, not infrequently rolling over
and causing fatal injuries. At least 135 people world-wide have died.
This tragedy is teaching the public as well as policy makers a number
of lessons. I would like to comment on five issues and make
recommendations for more effective enforcement of the nation's motor
vehicle safety defect laws.
1. LFord and Firestone covered up safety problems with the tire/SUV
combination for a decade. Coverups will continue without
corrective action by NHTSA.
The Ford Explorer was first offered for sale in March 1990.
Numerous Ford internal documents show the company engineers recommended
changes to the vehicle design after it rolled over in company tests
prior to introduction, but other than a few minor changes, the
suspension and track width were not changed because this would have
delayed the introduction date by as much as ten months. Instead, Ford,
which sets the specifications for the manufacture of its tires, decided
to remove air from the tires, lowering the recommended psi to 26. It
appears Ford never fully tested the tires at this level. The Firestone-
recommended psi molded into the tire for maximum load is 35 psi.
Within a year of introduction, lawsuits against Ford and Firestone
were filed for tire failures that resulted in crashes and rollovers. At
least five cases were filed by 1993, and many others followed in the
early 1990s. Almost all were settled, and settled with gag orders
prohibiting the attorneys and the families from disclosing information
about the cases or their documentation to the public or DOT. When
lawsuits are filed against a company about a safety defect, the company
organizes an internal investigation to assemble information and
analysis about the allegations. Top company officials are kept informed
about all lawsuits against the company, particularly when they
accumulate concerning one problem. There is no question the companies
knew they had a problem. But they kept it secret.
During the early 1990s, Ford was concerned with improving the
rolling resistance of the tires to be used on the 1995 model Explorer,
apparently because of the reduced fuel economy with the low 26 psi
inflation level. Changes were made to the 1995 model's suspension
system, but these did not lower the center of gravity, an essential
element in rollover susceptibility.
In 1996, several state agencies in Arizona began having major
problems with tread separations on Firestone tires on Explorers.
According to news reports, various agencies demanded new tires, and
Firestone sent six engineers to Arizona to conduct an investigation of
the complaints, tested the tires and asserted that the tires had been
abused or under-inflated.
By the end of 1996, at least 15 lawsuits had been filed.
The Ford Explorer and its sister vehicles with Firestone tires were
sold across the globe. In 1998, Ford and Firestone exchanged
correspondence and had discussions about tire failures in Middle
Eastern, Asian and South American countries. Tires were tested and
analyzed. Dealers complained bitterly to Ford and Firestone from 1997
to 2000 about deaths and injuries in Ford Explorers, the adverse effect
these were having on sales and delays in getting any relief.
In January 1998, Glenn Drake, Ford's regional marketing manager in
the United Arab Emirates e-mails other Ford officials: ``If this was a
single case, I would accept Firestone's response as they are the
experts in the tire business, case closed. However, we now have three
cases and it is possible that Firestone is not telling us the whole
story to protect them from a recall or a lawsuit.''
In 1996, Ford instructed Firestone to upgrade the tires in
Venezuela by adding a nylon ply to the tires it manufactured there for
additional strength, and Ford made suspension changes to the Explorer,
adding a stiffer shock absorber and reinforcement of the suspension.
But Ford did not specify adding the nylon ply for U.S.-made Firestone
tires nor did it change the U.S. made Explorer suspension at this time.
Ford eventually decided to conduct its own recall without Firestone
and replace the tires in the various foreign countries in 1999 and 2000
(called a ``customer notification enhancement action''). Ford did this
without Firestone because the tire company was fearful a recall would
require notification of NHTSA. A March 1999 Ford memo reveals
``Firestone legal has some major reservations about the plan to notify
customers and offer them an option . . . They feel that the U.S. D.O.T.
will have to be notified of the program, since the product is sold in
In May 2000, a top Ford official in Venezuela was quoted in the
press as saying the company was replacing the tires there because in
Venezuela ``the highways allow drivers to travel at high speeds for a
sustained period of time, leading to the loosening of the rolling
surface of the tire, its consequent blowout and the accident.''
On August 30, 2000, the Venezuelan safety regulatory agency,
Indecu, concluded after an investigation that Firestone and Ford ``met
to plan ways out of a situation that was affecting their commercial
interests, at the price of causing damage, destruction and death,'' and
announced it is recommending possible criminal enforcement for
involuntary manslaughter. Neither Ford nor Firestone informed the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of this recall,
euphemistically labeled a ``No Charge Service Program Award
Recently numerous Firestone documents have become available
revealing the company had reason to know since 1997 from property
damage and injury claims and tire performance data such as warranty
adjustments and financial analysis of such claims that its tires were
failing. Several documents show a large jump in claims involving tread
separations in 1997 and 1998. During all these years the company
disclaimed any problem--to consumers, to state government officials and
to Ford. One company chart reveals that tread separations for the
Wilderness tire increased 194 percent in 1999 from 1998. Test data on
the tires by Ford and Firestone are still not available.
By the end of 1999, four months before NHTSA opened its
investigation, at least 59 lawsuits had been filed. A total of at least
35 deaths and 130 injuries were involved in the lawsuits or notice of
lawsuits to the companies by May, 2000.
Incidentally, there are a number of parallels between this recall
in 2000 and the 1978 recall of the Firestone 500. Most particularly,
there was a documented coverup by Firestone of the 500 defect, spurred
by the lack of a Firestone replacement tire. When the coverup was
disclosed, the top management of the company was replaced. Firestone
was severely damaged financially and in reputation. But a key
difference is that the Firestone 500 was used on passenger cars, which
rarely rolled over with tire failure. NHTSA documented 41 deaths with
the Firestone 500 case, which involved about seven million tires
Once again, when confronted with accusations about the performance
of the tire, Firestone has misleadingly claimed owner abuse (i.e.
under-inflation, rough use or improper fix). Neither Ford nor Firestone
designed a margin of safety into its vehicles and tires.
2. LThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs additional
legislative authority to assure that manufacturers obey the
law, report safety defects and recall unsafe products.
To prevent coverups of safety defects in the future, the National
Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act should be amended. In March 2000
the agency sent legislation to the Congress which would make some
improvements, but additional authority is needed. The Congress should:
a. LIncrease civil penalties for failure to recall a defective
vehicle or part or withholding information from the agency. Now the
maximum penalty is $925,000, hardly a deterrent for multinational
corporations. The penalty for each violation should be increased from
$1,000 to $10,000 (as at the Environmental Protection Agency); the
violation for withholding documents should be per day rather than per
document as it is now (no matter how long it is withheld). There should
be no maximum penalty.
b. LAs in the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental
Protection Agency laws, there should be criminal penalties for reckless
endangerment and knowing and willful refusal to recall a defective
vehicle or part or for withholding information that results in deaths
and injuries. Chairman John Moss, after reviewing the Firestone 500
debacle in 1978, recommended criminal penalties be added to the NHTSA
c. LAs recommended by NHTSA's proposed bill, a company should be
required by law to test its products before self-certifying for
compliance with the agency's standards. Such testing is not now
required by law.
d. LThe statute of limitations for NHTSA to mandate a recall is now
eight years for vehicles and three years for tires from the date of
manufacture. It should be extended, as the agency recommends, to 10
years for vehicles and five years for tires. The statute should be
tolled, however, when companies conceal defects. The agency should have
authority to require a company to purchase replacement parts from a
competitor if necessary where there is an imminent hazard and be able
to require reimbursement to consumers who made repairs or bought
replacements prior to the recall.
e. LThere is disagreement about whether the current law requiring
manufacturers to send NHTSA copies of all notices sent to dealers and
owners about a defect is applicable in this case. Ford sent notices to
foreign dealers about a defect in a product made and sold in the U.S.
and also sold abroad. Does the fact that the notice was sent to foreign
dealers negate Ford's responsibility to notify NHTSA? I don't think so,
but certainly the law should be clarified that this is a company's
responsibility in this age of globalization. Companies should also have
a duty to give NHTSA early warnings based on fatality, injury, warranty
or other data it gathers, and the agency should be able to get relevant
information from insurers.
f. LNHTSA's budget needs to be larger, much larger, particularly
for enforcement. Ninety-four percent of transportation deaths occur on
the highway, yet NHTSA has only a tiny percentage of the transportation
budget. Although it has been increased in recent years, and I thank the
Appropriations Committees for that, it is still 30 percent below, in
real dollars, what it was when I left the agency at the beginning of
1981. Its enforcement budget is about one-half of the 1980 budget. It
has fewer than 20 engineer/investigators working on vehicle safety
defects for the entire country. The Congress should add at least $20
million to the agency's 2001 budget for additional staff and capacity.
Look at it this way: We spend hundreds of billions of dollars for
defense, but more members of the military are killed and injured in
motor vehicle crashes than in military duty. The members of the 106th
Congress should not be able to go home for election and tell the voters
they have acted to prevent another future catastrophe without sending
legislation to the President for signature.
3. LThe Firestone/Ford recall should be expanded to cover all ATX, ATX
II and Wilderness tires to protect the public from this
catastrophic defect, and all data and information should be
made public to restore public trust.
Much of the data on which Ford based its analysis of Firestone
claims data is still not public or subject to outside scrutiny (such as
how many tires were made at each plant and when--an important factor
since the defect appears to emerge after two to four years of use), and
it is based on information only through April 2000. None of the recent
information that has been pouring into the companies and NHTSA as the
public is getting informed about the problem is included. It also
covers only claims data--claims for compensation for injury or property
damage. It does not cover warranty claims or adjustment data for tire
failures. It does not cover any information known to Ford (although
there will be duplication between Ford and Firestone data) such as tire
test data, including at 26 psi. It also does not cover new information
now known by NHTSA about claims.
On September 1, after analyzing recent data (complaints, lawsuits,
injuries, including information submitted to date from Ford and
Firestone), NHTSA determined that the recall should be enlarged to
cover another 1.4 million tires. NHTSA said it is still investigating
to determine if the recall should be enlarged further. It issued a
consumer advisory because Firestone refused to enlarge the recall, an
indication of Firestone's attitude toward a safety defect that gives
the consumer no warning and can result in death and severe injury when
the vehicle is operated normally. This same attitude was evident in
Firestone's offer made on August 16 in public newspaper ads that it
would reimburse owners who bought other tires, but the offer also ended
on August 16! Had it not been for a temporary restraining order issued
by a federal judge in Louisville preventing the company from
discontinuing the one-day offer, Firestone might have faced a massive
consumer revolt, picket lines, more consumer lawsuits and more disputes
with its largest customer, Ford Motor Company, which is pressing to get
the tires replaced quickly with tires from other manufacturers as well
There is every indication that this problem is a design defect that
affects all the tires produced. In the Firestone 500 case, the company
at first asserted that only 400,000 tires were defective, those
produced in the Decatur plant. But during NHTSA's investigation, as
more data were available and company documents were secured and
analyzed, we found that the tread separation on the 500 was a design
performance defect. The company knew about it for at least three years
and never informed NHTSA, and it was at the same time making running
changes on the production line to correct the problem in new tires.
There are other indications that the companies should expand the
recall. An analysis released September 1 of about 90 filed lawsuits or
claims about to be filed showed that 37 percent covered non-recalled
tires. In several of the foreign recalls, 16-inch tires were included
(but are not recalled in the U.S.).
There are a number of documents and data that are still secret.
This undermines public scrutiny of the scope of the August recall, and
many of the documents are missing information or poorly formatted and
so hard to read they look like first drafts. Secrecy is found in
submissions by the companies to NHTSA, in documents not yet submitted,
or gag orders in lawsuits that should be made public. The agency rarely
uses its subpoena power authority but could do so to secure these
protected documents. This may be painful for the companies, but it is
essential given the broad public debate about this safety defect and
the need for the companies to regain public trust. This information
will probably leak out over time anyway, so it makes sense to release
4. LNHTSA failed to discover this defect because it lacks a proactive
program to discover safety defects.
a. LNHTSA was caught flatfooted in this case because it rarely
pushes companies to obey the law. The Department allowed GM to resist
recalling its five million defectively designed 1973-1987 pickup trucks
with side-saddle gas tanks that explode in side-impact crashes
(approximately 800 people have died because of fire in crashes with
these vehicles, according to NHTSA's Fatal Accident Reporting System).
It allowed Ford to resist recalling its vehicles equipped with ignition
modules that frequently failed, causing vehicles to stall. It allowed
Chrysler to label its correction of its minivans with defective rear-
door latches that pop open in rear crashes, (throwing occupants
outside), a ``service campaign'' and not a safety recall. I don't think
its subpoena power has been exercised in 20 years, and it rarely
imposes penalties when it learns companies have slithered around its
request to produce documents, which unfortunately happens with some
LAuto manufacturers roll the dice in attempts to avoid mandatory
recalls and usually win. This time their coverup was revealed by an
enterprising investigative reporter at KHOU in Houston on February 7
and 10. This time they are the losers as the media spotlight forces the
story of the sorry state of safety defect enforcement and manufacturer
compliance with the law into the public consciousness.
b. LNHTSA also has no early warning system in place and has not
been proactive in requiring manufacturer warnings or in using sources
of information that are on the pulse-beat of current real world
information about vehicle performance. They can and should routinely
get information from: auto repair facilities; fleet owners, including
national, state and local fleets; lawyers representing deceased and
injured family members who find out about defects through discovery and
cross examination of manufacturers; insurance company data; and also
from the companies themselves, as they are the first to receive
consumer complaints and dealer concerns. The auto companies also know,
as in this case, the design decisions they have made that could
In this case, State Farm Insurance Co., the nation's largest
insurer, sent an e-mail and called NHTSA in 1998 about 21 cases of
Firestone tire tread separations, but the agency ignored it. The press
reports that another 30 cases were discussed with the agency in 1999,
and the agency ignored them as well. Finally, on April 25, 2000, in
response to a NHTSA request, 70 reports covering 1996 through April
2000 were sent. How could this happen? How often does the agency check
complaints dutifully filed by consumers through its hotline and in
letters to spot trends? They are all on a computer list by make, model
and alleged defect. Even if this happens routinely, it's not enough--
because, as this case illustrates, most consumers don't bother
contacting government agencies.
The agency should require, as does EPA, that a company notify the
agency if it gets 25 complaints about the same alleged defect, and
require, as does the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that the
company notify the agency if three or more lawsuits alleging the same
safety defect are filed.
The agency has also used a highly inappropriate system for
evaluating whether a safety defect exists--looking at statistical data
which are rarely adequate. If it cannot establish a statistical basis,
the agency does not find a defect. Crash statistics are totally
inadequate to justify such an approach. Yet, the Administrator admitted
in testimony last week that NHTSA did something similar in this case--
comparing 46 complaint problems to 40 million tires manufactured and
didn't act. But with a catastrophic, deadly failure, this is completely
inappropriate. And the agency never did the simple analysis published
on Friday, September 8, in The New York Times showing that fatal
crashes in 1995-1998 Ford Explorers are ``nearly three times as likely
to be tire related as fatalities involving other sport utilities or
cars.'' The courts have held in a number of cases that if a safety
element of the vehicle fails and can result in death or injury, there
is a failure of safety performance sufficient to find a defect, and
there is no need to look for dead bodies on the highway first.
The 1994 Michelin tire case reported in the Akron Beacon Journal is
a different example. It was opened by NHTSA on the basis of five
complaints with no injuries. The agency said it launched the
investigation as a courtesy to the Kentucky Attorney General but says
the complaints alone did not warrant it. But in testimony last week,
NHTSA Administrator Sue Bailey said one seat belt complaint would be
enough to open an investigation. Clearly the various elements of a
case, not just the numbers, must be evaluated.
In short, NHTSA has not been the tough cop on the regulatory beat.
When it is, the companies are more safety-conscious, the public is
protected, and in the end it is less work for all parties. The
Firestone/Ford case shows what happens when safety is not Job 1 in the
companies or in the government.
5. LEssential safety standards are severely out of date, were scrapped
or delayed in the Reagan years, or are prohibited by law
because of industry lobbying.
a. LThe tire safety standard is 32 years old and is not fully
effective for testing radial tires. Both Ford and GM have recently
stated that they favor an improved standard. The current standard tests
for strength, endurance and how well the tire remains on the rim.
Radial tires last much longer than bias ply tires and should be
subjected to a tougher standard.
b. LThe Uniform Tire Quality Grading standard applies only to car
tires, not truck/SUV tires. It is a consumer information requirement
rating tread wear, traction and heat resistance with the rating molded
into the tire. It should be expanded to cover truck/SUV tires. As it
happens, the Explorer/Firestone tire is rated because it is used on a
large Buick station wagon. For heat resistance, it gets the lowest
grade. But Ford official Jon Harmon dismissed the poor rating,
indicating that if the tire meets Ford's performance standards the C
rating is of no concern. But Ford's tests have not been produced to
c. LThe roof crush standard is 30 years old. It is a static
standard requiring weight to be placed on the roof of the vehicle
(applied to SUVs beginning in model year 1994) equal to 1.5 times the
maximum unloaded weight of the vehicle. In many of the Ford Explorer/
Firestone rollover cases, the roof crushes into the vehicle, severely
enhancing the likelihood of injury and death. A dynamic rollover crash
worthiness standard should be issued addressing roof crush, door lock
and hinges, side glazing materials, side air bags, and head protection.
Crash protection in rollovers must include effective safety belts with
d. LThe first petition to NHTSA for a rollover prevention standard
was filed by Representative Timothy Wirth 15 years ago. Others
followed. In 1991 the Congress required NHTSA to conduct a rollover
prevention rulemaking. The agency made an initial effort at developing
a safety standard but then dropped it and instead proposed a consumer
information requirement. The auto industry then got the Appropriations
Committee to prohibit issuance of a consumer information rule until
after a study by the National Academy of Sciences about the usefulness
and presentation of consumer information. Finally in May 2000 the
agency proposed to conduct New Car Assessment tests for rollover based
on a static measurement of track width and center of gravity height,
but once again the manufacturers objected and the Appropriations
Committee bill requires yet another study by the NAS before it could be
issued. This bill is now in conference.
LOur coalition of consumer and health groups and insurers favors
dropping the study and letting NHTSA proceed with its rulemaking on the
consumer information test, even though we prefer a more comprehensive
test. A 1998 Harris poll conducted for Advocates For Highway and Auto
Safety shows 62 percent of the public wants such information. But we
also want a rollover prevention standard. It is long overdue. About
9,500 highway deaths annually occur in rollover crashes--almost 25
percent of all highway deaths. This problem must be addressed,
particularly with the large numbers of SUVs being used as family
vehicles that are susceptible to rollover.
e. LThe agency should issue a rule for a tire inflation indicator
on the dashboard, as I proposed 22 years ago. It was eliminated by the
Reagan administration. The companies complain that tires are not
properly inflated but then lobby to undercut consumers' ability to
properly maintain their tires with accurate information.
f. LThe tire manufacturing information now molded into the black
wall of the tire should be placed on the whitewall or outside of the
tire so a consumer doesn't have to crawl under the car to find it to
determine if their tire is subject to a recall. This was part of my
rulemaking plan more than 20 years ago, but it was never issued after I
g. LThe tire reserve load consumer information requirement
eliminated in the Reagan years should be reestablished to inform
consumers of the maximum rated load capacity of the vehicle, so they
know when they should inflate their tires for maximum load carrying.
h. LThe agency should be alert in this case to whether its
requirement for record retention of only five years should be extended,
since the critical evidence in this case extends over a decade.
i. LThree elements of legislation are needed that are relevant to
LFirst, the 1982 legislation eliminating the responsibility of
independent tire dealers to report the names and addresses of tire
purchasers to the manufacturer for notification in the event of a
recall should be changed back to requiring such record keeping as
during the period from 1970 until 1982. Independent dealers with
computers today can readily supply such names to the manufacturer. The
current law only requires the independent dealer to give the consumer a
card to mail themselves. A 1986 NHTSA report showed only 11 percent
responded. Thus, in this case, most buyers from independent dealers
will not be notified by mail.
LSecond, the current law requires tire owners to return the tire
within 60 days of a recall notification (which, I presume, means if a
manufacturer has no contact information, a consumer would have to rely
on news reports) or 60 days after tire replacement. Car owners in
recalls don't have this limitation. It is confusing enough to get tires
replaced without this added complexity. It should be eliminated.
LThird, the current prohibition in the law on a NHTSA rule
requiring a continuous buzzer to alert occupants to buckle up should be
eliminated. Among car companies, only Ford, I believe, now has a
continuous buzzer. The current law only permits NHTSA to require a 4-8
second buzzer. Belt use is essential in rollovers. It should be
encouraged in every way, including when the vehicle is in use.
Mr. Chairman, we urge the Committee to immediately mark-up and pass
new legislative authority for NHTSA so it can do its job. It must be a
priority for this Congress. And such legislation should instruct the
agency to upgrade and issue the safety standards referenced above that
are long overdue.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to testify on this
important subject today.
Chronology of Firestone/Ford Knowledge of Tire Safety Defect
May 1, 1987 A Ford internal memo states that the stability of the Explorer [UN46] is worse
than Bronco II and that it can be improved by widening, lowering and using a
smaller P215 tire.
June 11, 1987 Ford internal memo on a meeting with Firestone reports that the ATX design is
approved by Ford.
Fall 1988 Ford ADAMS reports states that the Explorer demonstrated ``performance issues'' at
35 psi but that they expected more favorable results at 26 psi.
November 25, 1988 An internal Ford Test Report shows Explorer lifts two wheels at 55 mph due to high
center of gravity, tires and front suspension system.
1989 Internal Ford document states that the cornering capacity of the Explorer is
``[n]ot to exceed current [Bronco II] levels. Limit cornering capacity with
larger tires through suspension revisions and tire pressure reduction.''
January 11, 1989 An internal Ford memo reports a meeting with Firestone to discuss front suspension
``jacking'' on the Explorer and Bronco II, a phenomena that is ``undesirable from
a vehicle stability standpoint.''
January 26, 1989 In an internal Ford memo, Ford engineers state the design goal [no two wheel lift]
has not been met with the P235 ATX tire.
February 9, 1989 Ford hires Arvin Calspan to test the P245 tires. In a letter to James Avouris from
George A. Tapia of the Arvin Calspan Tire Research Facility, Tapia reports that
``[t]he P245 test tires at the 29 psi pressure condition showed a severe `tread
package' separation from the tire carcass.''
February 20, 1989 In an internal Ford memo, Ford engineers recommend use of 26/26 psi along with
various other spring changes due to stability testing showing two wheel lift with
March 2, 1989 Internal Firestone memo to Ford states that ``in light of Ford's decision to
specify 26 psi in the P245 tire for the Explorer, Firestone has tested the
vehicle at 26 psi front and 35 psi rear'' . . . ``Calspan testing showed severe
tread separation, but our testing used a more realistic procedure and we don't
think it will be a problem.''
April 5, 1989 An internal Ford memo reports that Consumer's Union told Mr. Sloan, Ford Vice
President of Public Relations: ``You have a real problem'' with your Bronco II.
April 11, 1989 Failure Analysis memo [Roger McCarthy] makes a proposal to Ford's lawyers to
conduct Consumer's Union testing.
April 21, 1989 An internal Ford memo from Sloan to upper management (including Red Poling)
following meeting with Consumer's Union reports that Ford staff has ``clouded
May 10, 1989 Ford Test Report reveals that J-turn results still show that the Explorer ``rolls
over'' in 5 of 12 tests. Blazer and Bronco II do not roll over!
May 16, 1989 Internal Ford memo emphasizes the importance of how the Explorer performs in the
Consumer's Union (avoidance maneuver) test and the need to return to Arizona for
May 17, 1989 Memo from Ford Truck Operations Management authorizes Consumer's Union testing in
May 29, 1989 Internal Ford memo tells management that there is a ``risk'' that the Explorer
``won't pass'' the Consumer's Union test.
June 1989 Consumer Reports article tells consumers they should ``avoid'' the Bronco II.
June 15, 1989 In an internal Ford memo to Truck Operations Management, Ford engineer Jim Mason
recommends design changes to the Explorer:
*Lists eight possible changes
July 1989 Ford memo indicating that Ford lowered the front of the Explorer half an inch and
stiffened the front springs to increase stability.
September 11, 1989 In an internal Ford email to Charles White, Roger Stornant states, ``I believe
that new info is that our competitors are recognizing CU Test as a requirement
and have designed their new utility vehicles to meet. OGC is concerned we will be
the only OEM with a vehicle that has a significant chance of failing the CU test.
I believe that management is aware of the potential risk w/P235 tires and has
accepted risk. CU test is generally unrepresentative of real world and I see no
`real' risk in failing except what may result in wave of spurious litigation.''
September 12, 1989 In an internal Ford email to Charles White, Roger F. Stornant expresses that OGC
is concerned that the UN46 [Explorer] would fail Consumers Union tests with the
December 1989 Internal memo states that Explorer with 235 tires set at 26 psi passed the
February 1990 In order to meet the production deadline, Ford officials rejected some proposals
to improve the stability of the Explorer (i.e. widening the track width).
March 1990 JOB 1: '91-'94 Explorer
May 1, 1990 Ford asks Firestone in a letter from Jim Avouris to issue a dealer bulletin
regarding tire replacement, emphasizing the importance of using the correct size
tire and the correct air pressures on the Explorer [due to rollover sensitivity].
September 12, 1990 In an email from Mazzola (Firestone) to Staples (Ford), Ford requests that
Firestone (a) change the tire design to a low rolling resistance polymer and (b)
change the tire pressure to 30/35 psi for a 1.6 mpg improvement on CAFE. The
question is raised whether air pressure change will affect ``vehicle dynamics,''
February 12, 1991 FILED: Woodburn v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co.; et al. [injuries unknown]
February 14, 1991 In a memo from Dave Wotton at Ford to Reichenbach at Firestone with tire
objectives for the 1995 model Explorer [UN105] shows that the goal is same
traction, better rolling resistance and better wear properties. Timing is
December 19, 1991 Firestone memo from Reichenbach to Gibas at Ford saying it is ``increasingly
important'' that we know whether you will adopt the tire for the Explorer.
March 24, 1992 FILED: Johnson v. Nissan, et al. [injuries unknown]
April 23, 1992 FILED: Cherinka v. Ford; et al [Explorer/ATX tread separation; injuries unknown]
April 29, 1992 FILED: Roberston v. Firestone/Bridgestone, Inc.; et al. [injuries unknown]
May 10, 1992 Letter from T.A. Mast & R.M. Campbell of Ford to Bridgestone/Firestone, Michelin,
Goodyear, and General Tire to revise UPN105 Tire Targets. The primary objectives
were to maintain tire wear, traction, and maximize rolling resistance.
June 16, 1992 Internal Ford memo entitled ``Targets--UN105'' contains:
August 27, 1992 Memo from J.E. Behr of Firestone to R.D. Bacigalupi, Ford Light Truck Engineering,
answering questions from Ford about changing the design of the ATX to use a
different tread compound for rolling resistance improvement.
September 28, 1993 A memo from Reichenbach at Firestone to Skyner at Ford asks to evaluate a tire
wear concern on the 10K testing as the '95 Explorer is exhibiting right front
inside shoulder wear.
December 22, 1993 FILED: Blackaller v. Ford; Firestone; et al. [2 injuries, 2 deaths]
April 12, 1994 Ford Light Truck Operations Tire Construction Detail Sheet specifies the P235/
75R15 tire at a maximum psi of 35.
September 9, 1994 FILED: Dreher v. Ford, et al. [injuries unknown]
1995 Ford/Firestone begins shipping 16" Wilderness tire to Saudi Arabia.
February 23, 1995 FILED: Greenwald v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX
separation; injuries unknown]
August 7, 1995 FILED: Ellis v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX; injuries
August 7, 1995 FILED: Dickson v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation
from Wilson, NC plant; injuries unknown]
January 4, 1996 FILED: Combs v. Ford [Bronco II/ATX separation; 1 fatality]
March 13, 1996 Welch v. Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation; 3 injuries] (incident date)
June 20, 1996 A memo from Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife manager Lowell Whitaker to
his regional supervisor describes two blow outs of Firestone tires. ``During the
past few months I have been cautioned as a user of Firestone tires by DPS
(Department of Public Safety) that there have been a series of accidents caused
by the separation of the tread from the tire on Firestone tires.''
July 1996 FILED: Rogers v. Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation; 1 injury, 1 fatality]
July 12, 1996 A memo from Deputy Yuma County (Arizona) Attorney John K. White regarding
Firestone Firehawk ATX tires reported:
July 22, 1996 Letter from Robert J. Descheemaker at the Arizona State Procurement Office to
Roger Abrams of Bridgestone/Firestone requesting replacement of all Firehawk ATX
tires bought under state contracts.
August 19, 1996 Ford CQIS computer report on Explorer with 20k miles--Colonial Ford dealer in
Danbury, Connecticut has 16 Explorers with distorted tires like this--belt is
obviously distorted and about to separate
August 26, 1996 FILED: Gauvain v. Bridgestone Corporation; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation; 1
September 23, 1996 FILED: Brizendine v. So. New. T.B.A. Supply Co., et al. [injuries unknown]
December 27, 1996 FILED: Guara v. Ford, et al [Bronco II/ATX separation; injuries unknown]
January 17, 1997 FILED: Kehm v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Bronco/ATX separation; 3
February 21, 1997 FILED: Spivak v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
June 1997 Speed rating on tires in Venezuela changed from R [106 mph] to S [112 mph], with
tires to be made in Venezuela.
June 1997 FILED: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Bridgestone/Firestone,
Inc. [injuries unknown]
June 2, 1997 FILED: Stephens v. Catherine A. Broome and Christopher D. Kehm; Bridgestone/
Firestone; et al. [Bronco/ATX separation; 3 injuries]
June 11, 1997 Fax from Daryl G. Parma of Firestone to Luis Abreau states that tests show ``how
much better'' the Wilderness AT (ST381J) is than the ATX II (SR897J) which would
replace the ATX II.
July 28, 1997 FILED: Jackson v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX
separation; 3 injuries, 1 fatality]
August 1997 An undated memo states Ford and Firestone are notified of tire problems in Saudi
Arabia [from the Congressional notebooks]
August 7, 1997 FILED: Lazarus v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
September 16, 1997 FILED: Silva v. Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation; injuries unknown]
September 22, 1997 FILED: Carrillo v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Blazer/ATX separation; 2
October 7, 1997 FILED: Flores v. Ford; Bridgestone/Firestone, et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
October 21, 1997 FILED: Chinichian v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
December 1, 1997 FILED: Ortiz v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX
separation; 1 fatality]
January 1998 Glenn R. Drake, regional marketing manager in the United Arab Emirates for Ford
expresses concern about Firestone's response to the tire problems in an email to
other Ford executives: ``If this was a single case, I would accept Firestone's
response as they are the experts in the tire business, case closed. However, we
now have three cases and it is possible that Firestone is not telling us the
whole story to protect them from a recall or a lawsuit.''
January 9, 1998 FILED: Haffey v. Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation; 2 injuries, 1 fatality]
January 22, 1998 FILED: Huffman v. Ford; et al [Explorer/ATX separation; 2 injuries, 1 fatality]
January 28, 1998 FILED: Bragg v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [1 injury]
April 23, 1998 FILED: Van Etten v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; Ford [Explorer/ATX separation; 3
injuries, 1 fatality]
April 24, 1998 FILED: Parra v. Ford; et al. [Explorer/Wilderness HT; 2 injuries]
May 15, 1998 FILED: Kim v. Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation; 2 injuries, 2 fatalities]
June 24, 1998 In an internal Bridgestone/Firestone interoffice memo to M. Hamaya Firestone, K.
Ball acknowledges that P235/75R15 ATX II separation is 92.8% of all ATX II claims
and 53.6% of all Firestone light truck claims for the year of 1997. Additionally,
warranty claims on ATX II tires jumped from 42 in 1995 to 279 in 1997, a sixfold
increase. 1998 light truck claims are 469 for separations and 8 for road hazards.
July 13, 1998 FILED: Simmons v. Ford; et al [Explorer/ATX separation; 2 injuries]
July 22, 1998 In an email to William Duckwitz at NHTSA from State Farm Associate Research
Administrator Samuel Boyden, Boyden advises NHTSA of 21 Firestone ATX P235/75R15
tire failures causing injuries. Fourteen cases were in 1991-1995 Ford Explorers.
The problem was dismissed as ``unremarkable'' by NHTSA.
July 31, 1998 FILED: Gutierrez v. Bridgestone/Firestone [Explorer/ATX separation; injuries
August 27, 1998 FILED: Lockwood v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; Ford; et al. [Explorer/ATX
separation; 1 fatality]
September 17, 1998 FILED: Alvarez v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
October 24, 1998 Ford Dealer Paul Wright, Technical Branch Manager, Al Jazirah Vehicles, expresses
concern and frustrations in a letter to John W. Thompson, Tamimi Company
Commercial Division that despite his warning about the safety of the tires, he
did not receive a response and was being ``kept in the dark to what is
1999 Federal data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System for 1995-98 was available to
Ford, Firestone, and NHTSA showing that Explorer fatalities were almost three
times as likely to be tire related as those with other SUVs or cars and that
Explorer crashes increased significantly in the late 1990s compared with other
January 1999 or after Explorer Tire DNP--Exposed Findings of Tire Explosion and Car Rolling Due to Tire
Inflation. Notes report of 22 Firestone and 10 Goodyear tread separations and
January 12, 1999 FILED: Hill v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [5 injuries]
January 19, 1999 FILED: Wieters v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [injuries unknown]
January 22, 1999 An email from D.J. Candido, to Firestone colleagues concluded that for countries
prone to heat induced separation, the Wilderness HT, with European specs, was the
best application choice. However, they also acknowledged that this model is more
prone to chip and tear. The best choice is to develop a new tire with similar
heat specs to the European model and similar chip/tear specs to the Australian
January 27, 1999 In an interoffice Bridgestone/Firestone memo entitled P255/79R16 Wilderness AT
Adjustment Data to Bruce Halverson, Market Quality Engineer, Nashville, Luis E.
Abreu, Technical Service Manager, Firestone Venezuela, indicates that 47 tires in
Venezuela had tread or belt separation. Of these 47, 34 had international serial
codes and 13 had DOT (USA) code.
January 28, 1999 In an email to Melanie Gumz, Glenn Drake of Ford reports that he is suspicious of
Firestone's response to the problem and suggests that Firestone is not telling
the entire story in order to protect themselves from lawsuits and a recall. Drake
also questions the durability of the product and the fact that Ford is about to
change the tire on all Explorers and Mountaineers to a tire that has better high
speed durability. Drake recommends that Ford conduct its own analysis in order to
protect Ford and give the dealers and customers an independent opinion. ``[W]e
owe it to our customers and our shareholders to investigate this for our own
peace of mind.''
January 1999 In a memo to Firestone Distribution entitled Ford Explorer--Concerns in the Middle
East (P255/70R16), John E. Behr, Account Executive for Original Equipment Tire
Sales, reported, ``I attempted to assure the Ford people that we are not aware of
any defect with these tires, and that we've supplied over 1.1 million of the same
tires to Ford over the past three years (1996 thru 1998) for usage in North
America, with excellent field performances.''
January 29, 1999 In a memo to Bridgestone/Firestone Distribution, John E. Behr, OE Sales, expresses
that Ford is concerned that the tires in the Middle East are defective.
February 8, 1999 FILED: Menendez v. Ford, Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX
separation; injuries unknown]
February 14, 1999 In a letter to Keshav Das, Technical Service Department of Firestone at Dubai,
John Garthwaite, Ford National Service Director, Al Jazirah Vehicles (Ford Dealer
in the Middle East), warns Bridgestone/Firestone of the serious nature of the
problem with P255/70/R16 AT tires. Garthwaite indicates that an accident occurred
with a tire at 30 psi. The tread separated completely and the tire remained
inflated. Garthwiate expressed his strong conviction that there is a ``distinct
problem with all or at least a certain production run of this particular tyre.''
February 25, 1999 Garthwaite continues to question the safety of the P255/70/R16 tire in a
subsequent letter to Keshav Das. ``These incidents involving Firestone P255/70/
R16 tyres is beginning to become an epidemic.'' He further states that ``Nothing
in your reply has done anything to re-assure me that there may not exist a defect
in a particular batch of your product . . .''
March 11, 1999 An internal Bridgestone/Firestone Letter to S. Katsura, et. al. from Firestone
Account Executive, John E. Behr expresses concern over the result of Ford's
proposed consumer notification program and its potential effects and
``perception'' it would convey in Saudi Arabia as well as ``complications it
could create in North America.'' The letter also indicates that other Ford people
also disfavored the notification program.
March 12, 1999 An internal Ford memo to Dave MacKinnon from Church Seilnacht states the
April 27, 1999 FILED: Glick v. Firestone Tire and Service Center, et al. [Explorer/ATX
separation; injuries unknown]
April 28, 1999 Ford memo on Firestone Tire Tread Separations states that Ford will ``address the
issues related to the rollovers on a case-by-case basis.''
May 4, 1999 FILED: Healy v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [Explorer/ATX separation; 1 injury]
May 4, 1999 FILED: Patterson (Elroy) v. Bridgestone/Firestone [injuries unknown]
May 4, 1999 In a fax from Arabian Car Marketing to Ford Middle East and North Africa Company,
Oman Ford advises Ford Middle East that it is replacing Firestone tires with
Michelin tires prior to delivery because Explorer users are becoming aware of
(through the internet) the off-road limitations of the Explorer.
June 24, 1999 FILED: Jenkins v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [injuries unknown]
June 30, 1999 Fax labeled ``Top Urgent & Very Important'' to Ford Middle East from Arabian Car
Marketing Company warns Ford Middle East and North Africa that the tires are
failing: ``news of fatal accidents on Explorer is spreading rapidly.'' ``The tire
problem has already resulted in a severe decline in Explorer sales.'' ``We are
also worried about further fatalities and possible lawsuits.''
July 2, 1999 FILED: Jenkins v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [injuries unknown]
July 7, 1999 FILED: Meza v. McCombs HFC Limited D/B/A Red, et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
July 16, 1999 FILED: Progressive County Mutual Insurance Company v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.
[Explorer/ATX separation; injuries unknown]
July 28, 1999 FILED: Jarvis v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [Explorer/ATX separation; injuries
July 30, 1999 FILED: Taylor v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [Explorer/ATX separation; injuries
August 2-5, 1999 Teams from Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone recognize Ford Explorer rollover due to
tread leaving casing in the Venezuelan Tire Survey of problem tires. Suggested
possible causes are excessive speed (173 Km/hr (26 Km in 9 minutes)), heavy load
(8 passengers plus luggage), and high pavement temperature (55 degrees Celsius at
1:20 pm). Suggested possible results were tire fatigue and separations. 132 tires
inspected at dealers in 4 locations revealed 8 underinflated tires (Wilderness
P255/70R/16AT and P235/75R/15ATX)
August 6, 1999 FILED: Aoyagi v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [injuries unknown]
August 9, 1999 Letter from B.V. Halverson to Mr. J. Gonzalez of Bridgestone Firestone
acknowledges that ``sustained high speed driving must be considered as a normal
input in the performance of vehicles and tires in Venezuela.'' Mr. Carlos Maren
``really wanted a BFS recommendation that would guarantee that a tire would never
have a separation.''
August 12, 1999 FILED: Romero v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
August 13, 1999 FILED: Jimenez v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [Explorer/ATX separation; injuries
August 17, 1999 Ford begins replacing tires on Saudi Explorers through a ``customer notification
enhancement action'' and not a ``recall.''
August 19, 1999 FILED: De Leon v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [injuries unknown]
August 23, 1999 In a letter to owners of light truck vehicles, Bridgestone/Firestone offers free
tire inspection and free rotation service as a special offer to Venezuelan owners
of light truck vehicles.
August 27, 1999 In a letter to C.E. Mazzorin, Ford's L.A. Klein indicates that the tire problems
in the Middle East are largely due to the fact that the tire was not designed for
the Middle Eastern market. The tire's speed rating is ``S'' which allows for
speeds up to 112 mph. The Middle East requires higher speed ratings.
September 1999 In a letter to it's GCC dealers, Ford stated: ``Ford and Firestone have been
working to identify a Firestone tire that we can recommend that may offer a
greater margin of resistance to puncture and or tread separation for the
conditions unique to the GCC region than the current tire. That tire has been
identified as the `special service' tire currently available only in the Saudi
Arabian market. This tire is more puncture resistant than the current production
Fall 1999 Ford began replacing Firestone tires on Explorers in ten Middle East countries.
September 1, 1999 FILED: Hendricks v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [Explorer/ATX separation; injuries
September 3, 1999 FILED: Bean v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
September 9, 1999 FILED: Porsche v. Ford, Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. [3 injuries]
September 12, 1999 In a letter from John Garthwaite, National Service Director, Al Jazirah Vehicles,
Saudi Arabia, to David MacKinnon, Director of Ford Customer Service, Dubai,
Garthwaite once again advises of tread separation problems in Saudi Arabia. He
suggests an in-depth Firestone tire investigation. ``I am afraid that I can see a
pattern emerging here. The tyre in this second case is totally destroyed but it
is clear to me that the body damage is indicative of tread separation in the
September 13, 1999 FILED: Smith v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.; et al. [injuries unknown]
September 14, 1999 Ford memo entitled ``1995/99 Explorer/Mountaineer Firestone P255/70R16 Tire
Separation in the United States'' states:
September 15, 1999 Internal Ford memo from Carlos Mazzorin to Jac Nasser and others:
September 17, 1999 FILED: Douglas v. Ford; Bridgestone/Firestone; et al. [Explorer/ATX separation;
October 1, 1999 Interoffice memo from L.A. Klein to C.E. Mazzorin reveals Ford's admission that it
was responsible for choosing to use the North American tire in the GCC (Gulf
Countries) market and determines the tire was not suitable for this area.
Firestone was not part of that decision.
October 19, 1999 Report entitled 1999 Firestone Quarterly Meeting: Critical Performance Issues,
Aiken, SC indicates that tire separations were up to 3365 from 2929. Belt edge
separation up 18.3%, belt leaving belt was up 10.1%, and SW separation--rubber
from casing was up 63.6% for 1999 third quarter compared to 1998. This report
does not separate out the individual tires.
October 19, 1999 The Radial ATXII also experienced a 5.2% increase in belt edge separation.
November 10, 1999 FILED: Guillen v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., et al. [injuries unknown]
December 21, 1999 FILED: Gilmore v. Bridgestone/Firestone; et al. [injuries unknown]
2000 1999 vs. 1998 Adjustments data, Firestone revealed that Wilderness tire
separations increased 194% and Wilderness adjustments are ``growing quickly.''
2000 est. In a Firestone document ``Explorer Tire DNP'' giving status report: ``In July 1997
FoV representatives were called to a meeting in Caracas with a group of
independent lawyers representing four (4) customers. The objective of this
meeting as expressed by these lawyers, was to draw Ford attention to a situation
related to their customers, but that they felt could be greater.''
January 1, 2000 In a Bridgestone/Firestone 1999 Year End Minor Profit Loss Report from William
Thomas to Dave Laubie, attached charts show 1998 and 1999 data on tire tread
separations by tire type and plant indicating large numbers of tread separations
in tires manufactured at Decatur plant and with 235/75R15 tire. Also shows
increasing claims for SXR4S Tire in 1999. Overall separation are up 10 in 1999
over 1998. 25% of total separations in 1999 were ATX II.
February 2000 Ford offers free replacement tires for vehicles in Malaysia and Thailand.
February 2000 Officials from Bridgestone/Firestone were briefed as early as February about
rising warranty costs for the now recalled tires according to internal
Bridgestone/Firestone documents including a series of charts distributed at a
sales meeting in February, 2000. One chart tracking ``separations increasing''
revealed that the number of warranty claims for tread separation had risen from
4,200 in 1998 to 4,694 in 1999 (an increase of 11.8 percent). Another chart
stated that ``Wilderness AT needs improvement.'' While still other charts
analyzed patterns in tread separations emphasizing tires for light trucks. These
charts revealed that the number of tread separations involving Wilderness tires
had risen 144 percent from 1998 to 1999.
February 7, 2000 & Feb. 10, KHOU, CBS affiliate station in Houston, breaks story of significant numbers of
2000 deaths and lawsuits with Firestone tires on Ford Explorers. Firestone Statement
on February 4 before the programs aired says: ``The Radial ATX has proved to be a
reliable workhorse for U.S. consumers. Our experience with the Radial ATX
indicates high consumer satisfaction with the quality and reliability of these
tires. No court or jury has ever found any deficiency in these tires.''
February 10, 2000 In a letter from Christine Karbowiak, Vice President, Public Affairs, Firestone,
to Robert Decherd, Chairman, President and CEO of A.H. Belo Corp., and Peter
Diaz, President and General Manager of KHOU-TV, Firestone states that KHOU-TV's
broadcast series regarding its tires, ``contains falsehoods and
misrepresentations that improperly disparage Firestone and its product, the
Radial ATX tire.'' It further asserts, ``This series has unmistakably delivered
the false messages that Radial ATX tires are dangerous, that they threaten the
safety of anyone using them, and that they should be removed from every vehicle
on which they are installed. Each of these messages is simply untrue.''
February 25, 2000 Bridgestone/Firestone report indicates that separations in Wilderness tires are on
the rise, but ATX are decreasing.
March 5, 2000 NHTSA ODI resume (IE00-016=different from current investigation file number)
indicates 22 complaints, 8 crashes, and 4 fatalities due to tire tread
separation. (All ODI complaints are sent to company when received.)
March 6, 2000 NHTSA opens preliminary inquiry after KHOU-TV programs prompted consumer
March 22, 2000 Firestone survey of 243 tires on 63 vehicles that were trade-ins or lease return
vehicles shows that 31% of the 15" tires were under-inflated and 51% of the 16"
tires were under-inflated and at total of 9 tires had less than 20 psi.
April 25, 2000 In response to a request from NHTSA, Samuel Boyden, State Farm Associate Research
Administrator, emailed a breakdown by calendar year and tire type (Firestone ATX,
ATX II, and Wilderness tires) for the period covering 1996 to April 2000. This
contained information on 70 reports.
May 2000 Ford offers to replace tires for customers in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
May 2000 Ford shifts to Goodyear tires in Venezuela as it waits for a U.S. Firestone
response. Ford's action covers about 39,800 vehicles.
May 2, 2000 NHTSA opens investigation of 47 million ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness Firestone
tires (investigation number PE00-020) with 90 complaints reporting 33 crashes
including 4 fatal crashes and 17 injury crashes resulting in 27 injuries and 4
May 8, 2000 NHTSA sends a list of interrogatories to Bridgestone/Firestone as part of its
investigation of the tire failures. NHTSA requests that Firestone respond by June
May 10, 2000 NHTSA sends a list of interrogatories to Ford as part of its investigation of the
tire failures. NHTSA requests that Ford respond by June 23rd.
June 6, 2000 Internal Ford Memo lists 21 vehicles sold in Gulf Countries. Lists Explorer (in
Venezuela) psi at 28/28 for the 15" tire. The new 15" tires are listed at 30/30.
June 16, 2000 Ford requests an extension of the deadline to respond to NHTSA's interrogatories
with an anticipated completion date of October 13th.
June 19, 2000 Ford requests extension from NHTSA for full response.
June 20, 2000 In response to NHTSA's interrogatories, Bridgestone/Firestone submits a partial
June 22, 2000 NHTSA grants Bridgestone/Firestone an extension until August 14th to provide
information in response to its interrogatories.
July 24, 2000 In response to NHTSA's interrogatories, Ford submits a partial response.
July 25, 2000 After a story aired on KCBS regarding Ford Explorers and ATX tires, Firestone
instructed dealers to replace tires with Bridgestone or Firestone tires of the
customer's choice. However, ``[t]his sale should be a regular sales ticket. Do
not use an adjustment ticket.'' [Adjustments (warranties) are used by NHTSA and
industry to track defects.]
July 31, 2000 Public learns of Ford's replacement of Firestone tires on Explorers in Venezuela.
July 31, 2000 Public learns of Ford's replacement of Firestone tires on Explorers overseas.
July 31, 2000 Ford submits another partial response to NHTSA's original interrogatories.
August 2, 2000 NHTSA reports it is probing 21 deaths in crashes of pickup trucks and SUVs where
tire failure may have played a role.
August 4, 2000 Sears, Roebuck & Co., the No. 1 tire retailer, stops selling certain Firestone
August 4, 2000 Ford submits another partial response to NHTSA's original interrogatories.
August 6, 2000 Firestone announces a ``customer information notice'' in Venezuela in which
certain models of tires would be replaced.
August 7, 2000 NHTSA announces investigation of 46 deaths related to the Firestone tires.
August 9, 2000 Firestone/Bridgestone voluntarily recalls 6.5 million 15" ATX, ATX II, and
Wilderness AT from the Decatur plant. (14.4 manufactured)
August 14, 2000 Bridgestone/Firestone asks NHTSA to again extend its deadline to respond to
NHTSA's initial interrogatories until September 5th.
August 15, 2000 NHTSA raises the number of traffic deaths linked to Firestone tires from 46 to 62.
It is also looking into reports of 100 injuries.
August 18, 2000 Ford's partial response to NHTSA's inquiries.
August 28, 2000 Bridgestone announces a boost in replacement production to 650,000.
August 29, 2000 NHTSA requests supplemental information from Ford as part of its ongoing
investigation of the Firestone tire failures. NHTSA requests that Ford respond by
August 31, 2000 Venezuela's consumer protection agency asked prosecutors to bring criminal charges
against both Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford. Ford's Jac Nasser responded by
stating, ``The accusation from the Venezuelan government that Ford Venezuela lied
is absolutely unfounded.'' Venezuelan authorities contend that Ford and Firestone
held secret meetings to determine what was wrong following the first reports of
incidents in 1998. Instead of instituting a recall, officials allege that Ford
asked Firestone to redesign the Wilderness tire.
August 31, 2000 NHTSA raises to 88 from 62 the number of deaths associated with the Firestone
September 1, 2000 Firestone declines NHTSA's request to voluntarily expand recall to 1.4 million
tires not included in the original recall.
September 4, 2000 Bridgestone/Firestone issues a recall in Venezuela of 62,000 Venezuelan-made 15-
inch and 16-inch Wilderness tires. Previously, only US-manufactured tires were
September 4, 2000 Bridgestone/Firestone reaches agreement with union to settle labor disputes and
avert a strike at nine U.S. plants.
September 6, 2000 Mr. Wyant, Firestone Vice President of Quality Assurance, testified that, ``They
[Ford] see every bit of the field performance data that is devoted to approving a
September 6, 2000 The Senate Appropriations Committee and House Commerce Sub Committees conduct
separate hearings on the Bridgestone/Firestone-Ford tire recall.
September 8, 2000 Ford states in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that ``we have
preliminarily agree to bear a portion of the costs of Firestone's recall.''
The Chairman. Thank you very much, Ms. Claybrook. We will
be working with you and Mr. Ditlow as we put this legislation
together. Thank you. Welcome, sir.
STATEMENT OF CLARENCE DITLOW,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY
Mr. Ditlow. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask that my entire
statement be in the record. I want to touch on one aspect of
the defect. And then I want to turn to the process. When the
Center for Auto Safety was seeking to get the Firestone 500
recalled, the first recall was cut off at a certain date
because Firestone claimed that the later made 500's had a lower
failure rate and were not defective. Just as today they are
claiming that the Wilderness AT has a lower failure rate and it
is not defective. We continued our efforts as more and more
miles accumulated on the 500's. The later made 500's were
proven to have the same failure rate, just as I am sure that
the Wilderness ATs will in the future.
So unless there is clear and convincing evidence, and there
certainly is not that to date. In the interest of public
safety, we need to recall all the ATXs and all the Wilderness
ATs, regardless of size and regardless of plant.
But as the tragic toll of 88 known deaths and 250 injuries
continues to climb and more information adds to the record, it
becomes clearer and clearer that both Ford and Firestone knew
more earlier, but failed to act until there were too many
complaints, too many deaths and too many injuries to conceal
Firestone tire failures on Ford Explorers from public
It is not coincidental that these two companies, Ford and
Firestone, have been assessed the two largest finds in NHTSA's
history, $500,000 by Ms. Claybrook in 1978 against Firestone
over the 500, and $425,000 in 1999 against Ford for concealing
defective ignition switches that caused fires. Covering up
defects to avoid recalls is profitable for manufacturers. The
worst case is they get caught and pay a token fine which is
more than offset by the money they save in a delayed recall. If
they do not get caught and the defect never becomes public,
auto companies save hundreds of millions of dollars in recall
costs at the expense of public safety.
All manufacturers conceal information from NHTSA and the
public. Mitsubishi concealed consumer complaints through a
double record bookkeeping system. Volvo was fined for not
providing dealer bulletins. Toyota was fined for concealing
fuel tank defects. Honda was fined for concealing seatbelt
warranty claims. Chrysler was just fined within the past few
weeks $400,000 for concealing fuel system defects. GM concealed
the most lethal defect in NHTSA's history, side saddle gas
tanks on 1973 to 1987 pickups that burned to death over 800
people and got away without a recall.
But when it comes to concealing defects in violation of
Federal and State laws, coverup is culture at Ford Motor
Company. By concealing defects, Ford does profit by avoiding
the cost of the recalls. Its vehicles pollute and its consumers
ride at risk of highway crashes, deaths and injuries. EPA has
fined Ford three times for emission violations. And one of
those was a $3.5 million criminal fine when Ford kept a double
set of books much as Mitsubishi did on a mission problem.
In 1999, just to show how recall pays or fine pays, in
ignition switches, Ford was fined $425,000 on a failure to
recall 8 million vehicles earlier. That is a nickel a vehicle.
No other auto company holds such a widespread reputation for
lawlessness over the years as does Ford. And I want to point
out a personal example. During the 1980's, NHTSA conducted five
investigations into stalling and in Ford vehicles in which Ford
withheld documents which would have shown a common cause of
stalling, ignition module failure. And once again, hotter
states like Arizona, Southern California, Texas, had greater
frequency because it was a heat related problem. Those Fords--
and there are 14 million of them still on the road--have a 9-
percent higher fatal crash record. Because they stall
unexpectedly at any time and at any speed.
And just last week a California judge announced that he
would order the recall of the Fords in California with
defective ignition modules. And in the stinging indictment,
Judge Ballachey found that Ford withheld responsive information
from NHTSA that it was obligated to provide. It was not for
Ford to decide what safety meant. But Ford fraudulently
concealed vital information related to vehicle safety from the
And I cannot help but compare what Ford President and CEO
Jac Nasser has repeatedly told the American public about
Firestone tires. That your safety is our top priority. And yet,
when Ford was asked in California what safety was, it said it
did not know. And there was no written definition of what safe
is within Ford Motor Company. Any motor company that has no
definition of safety has no moral compass and it is why we have
crises like the Firestone tires on Ford Explorers.
Now, the case law on safety defects is very clear in
establishing a per se theory of failure of any component which
can lead to loss of control or mobility or fire. And it
requires showing only that such a critical component failed.
And there need not be any crashes, injuries or deaths, just the
unreasonable risk of crashes, injuries or death. And I could
not disagree more with Administrator Bailey, who is new on the
job. But the very seminal and original defect case of Kelsy-
Hayes wheels which started based on a single complaint. If Mrs.
Bailey was correct in that they do not open cases until they
get multiple complaints, we would not have the Kelsy-Hayes
wheels case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Finally, the biggest single problem in the National Traffic
and Motor Vehicle Safety Act is that it has no teeth if a
manufacturer covers up a defect. Ford is a recidivist in
covering up defects and avoiding recalls. And the best way to
make Ford and other companies obey the law is to put criminal
penalties into that law which the auto industry successfully
lobbied against when the Safety Act was passed. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Clarence Ditlow follows:]
Prepared Statement of Clarence Ditlow,
Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety
Mr. Chairmen and members of the Committee, thank you for the
opportunity to testify on the recall of Bridgestone/Firestone tires on
Ford light trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). I am Clarence
Ditlow, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) which is
a non-profit organization founded by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader in
1970 but is now independent of both. The Center works to improve
vehicle and highway safety and was the consumer group responsible for
the recall of 19.5 million Firestone 500 steel belted radials in 1978-
Although there are many similarities between the Firestone 500 and
the Firestone/Ford tire failures, there is a key difference--the role
of the vehicle on which the tires are mounted. In the Firestone 500
recall, there were more tires and complaints (14,000 then versus 1,400
today) but fewer deaths (41 then versus 88 and rising today). The
primary vehicle in which Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tire
tread separations and deaths have been associated is the Ford Explorer,
an SUV which has been marketed as a passenger car. Although the
Explorer meets essentially the same standards as passenger cars (albeit
on a delayed schedule) there are no standards on rollover and only a
weak standard on roof strength for rollover protection. The Explorer is
the worst kind of vehicle on which to put a bad tire. A tread
separation or other tire failure can lead to a fatal rollover. A tire
made for an SUV like the Explorer should have an extra margin of safety
built into it like a nylon ply because the consequences of failure can
be so bad.
As the tragic toll of 88 known deaths and 250 injuries continues to
climb and more information is added to the public record, it becomes
clearer and clearer that both Ford and Firestone knew more earlier but
failed to act until there were too many complaints, deaths and injuries
to conceal Firestone tire failure on Ford Explorers from public
Firestone and Ford Early Knowledge Show Companies Covered Up Defect
Emerging information show that both Ford and Firestone had early
knowledge of tread separation in Firestone tires on Ford Explorers and
other Ford vehicles but at no point informed the NHTSA or the American
public. To the contrary, the companies concealed information on the
lethal combination of Firestone tires on Ford Explorers. It is not
coincidental that these two companies have been assessed the two
largest fines in NHTSA's history--$500,000 in 1978 against Firestone
over the 500 steel belted radial and $425,000 in 1999 against Ford for
concealing defective ignition switches that shorted and started fires.
Product liability lawsuits were filed in the early 1990's on
Explorer rollovers caused by Firestone tire failures. Lawsuits
settlements and discovery contained confidentiality agreements and
document protective orders so information on tread separation on
Firestone tires causing rollovers on Ford Explorers could be concealed.
NHTSA began receiving consumer complaints in 1990-93 and provided Ford
and Firestone with summaries of all such complaints as part of its
standard policy. In 1996, Arizona state agencies confronted Firestone
about tread separations, particularly in hot weather, in Firestone
steel-belted radials. In 1998, Ford began receiving complaints on
Firestone tire failures on Explorers in other countries. That same
year, State Farm Insurance informed NHTSA that it had received 21
damage claim reports on Firestone radial failures on Ford Explorers
dating back to 1992. In late 1999, Ford began to replace Firestone
tires on Explorers in other countries but failed to notify NHTSA
despite a Ford internal memo showing both Ford and Firestone concerned
about the duty to report this to NHTSA.
Covering up defects to avoid recalls is profitable for
manufacturers even if they get caught by NHTSA. The worst case is they
get caught and pay a token fine which is more than offset by the money
they save in a delayed recall which always has a lower completion rate.
If they don't get caught by NHTSA and the defect never becomes public,
auto companies save hundreds of millions of dollars in recall costs at
the expense of public safety and lives.
All manufacturers, conceal information from NHTSA and the public
whether it's by secrecy agreements in product liability lawsuits or by
withholding information directly from NHTSA. Mitsubishi was recently
caught concealing consumer complaints through a double record keeping
system. Volvo was fined $17,000 this year for not providing dealer
bulletins to NHTSA as required by the Vehicle Safety Act. Volvo got
caught only because one of the bulletin it withheld was on Joan
Claybrook's Volvo. Toyota was fined for concealing fuel tank defects.
Honda was fined for concealing seat belt warranty claims and not doing
a recall until NHTSA began an investigation. Chrysler is under
investigation for concealing fuel rail defects in its LH models. GM
concealed the most lethal defect in NHTSA's history--side saddle gas
tanks on 1973-87 pickups that burned to death over 800 people--for over
20 years through confidential settlements that virtually all the trucks
were beyond the 8-year statute of limitation for mandatory recall by
the time NHTSA caught up to GM. If manufacturers get beyond the 8-year
limit and there is no recall, the maximum fine is $1,000 (adjusted for
inflation) per withheld document. If they get caught in time to do a
recall, then the maximum fine is $1,000 per vehicle or tire which
should have been recalled earlier capped at $800,000 (adjusted to
$925,000 for inflation). Strictly peanuts. In the case of Ford which
was fined $425,000 in the 8 million vehicle ignition switch recall, the
fine came to a nickel a car.
Cover Up Is a Culture at Ford Motor Company
When it comes to concealing defects and violations of federal and
state laws, cover up is a culture at Ford Motor Company. By concealing
defects Ford profits by avoiding costly emission and safety recalls.
Its vehicles pollute and its consumers ride at risk of highway crashes,
deaths and injuries. In the early 1970's the Environmental Protection
Agency fined Ford twice for cheating on emission tests. In one case,
the Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint against Ford that
resulted in a record $7 million fine of which $3.5 million was an
unprecedented criminal fine against an auto company for false reporting
of emission information to the government.\1\ In that case, Ford kept a
double set of book with the correct one for internal use and a false
one for the US government, much the same as Mitsubishi did on consumer
\1\ Department of Justice Press Release Announcing Settlement in
United States v Ford Motor Co., Feb. 13, 1973.
In the late 1970's, the Federal Trade Commission sued Ford for
conducting secret warranties on engine and transmission problems.\2\ In
the late 1980's, Ford withheld documents from the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration during investigations on stalling in Ford
vehicles to avoid recalls.\3\ In 1999, NHTSA reached a settlement which
required Ford to pay a $425,000 penalty for its coverup and failure to
timely recall million of vehicles with defective ignition switches that
set parked vehicles on fire.\4\ In 1998, the Environmental Protection
Agency again fined Ford, this time $7.8 million in total payments
including a $3.5 million fine, for cheating emission standards by
illegally installing emission control defeat devices on its
vehicles.\5\ No other auto company holds such a widespread reputation
for lawlessness over the years. And this doesn't even consider the
infamous exploding Ford Pinto which resulted in a criminal indictment
against company. Even though Ford was narrowly acquitted in the Pinto
criminal case, a model corporation would not come close to the edge of
breaking the law.
\2\ In the Matter of Ford Motor Co., 96 FTC 362 (1980).
\3\ Letter from Frank Seales, NHTSA Chief Counsel, to Jay D. Logel,
Office of Chief Counsel, Ford Motor Co., Jan. 26, 1998.
\4\ Settlement Agreement Between Ford Motor Co. & NHTSA, March 11,
\5\ Department of Justice Press Release, June 8, 1998.
California Court Uncovers Ford's Latest Cover Up--Stalling In 14
During the 1980's, NHTSA conducted five investigations into
stalling in Ford vehicles. During those investigations, Ford withheld
documents from NHTSA that would have shown a common cause of stalling--
failure of the Thick Film Ignition (TFI) module mounted on the
distributor when its temperature rises above 125+C and cuts out,
causing the vehicle to stall on the highway. There are over 14 million
vehicles still on American roads today that suffer from the same
readily-correctable design defect that can cause the engine to stop
abruptly and unexpectedly, at any time and at any speed, leaving the
driver without power-assisted steering or brakes and the vehicle
disabled. Vehicles with the distributor mounted TFI module have a 9%
higher fatal crash rate than those with a different module system.
Ford Motor Company has known about this problem since it began, yet
it has concealed it from consumers and government regulators for well
over a decade. Just as in Firestone tires on Ford Explorers, a prime
instrument in Ford's cover up is secrecy agreements in product
liability lawsuits. Over 900 product liability lawsuits have been filed
against Ford on these vehicles with protective orders and confidential
settlement agreements entered in many.
In a landmark decision on August 29, 2000, in Howard v. Ford Motor
Co., (Case No. 763785-2, Alameda County Superior Court, California
State Judge Michael Ballachey announced he would order the recall of
1.8 million 1983-95 Ford vehicles in California with defective ignition
modules that fail and cause dangerous stalls on highways. Judge
Ballachey's ruling is the first court order of a recall in the United
States outside NHTSA. In a stinging indictment of Ford Motor Co., Judge
LFord withheld responsive information from NHTSA that it was
obligated to provide. [P. 5] It was not for Ford to decide what
``safety'' meant, or what levels of warranty returns obligated it to
report to the EPA. Ford's responsibility was to respond to legitimate
government inquiries with appropriate information so that an
independent evaluation could determine the presence or absence of a
problem. [P. 6] Ford failed to meet its obligations to report safety
related defect information to relevant governmental agencies and, by so
doing concealed vital information related to vehicle safety from the
consuming public. This fraudulent concealment . . . constitutes a
violation of both Civil Code sections 1770(a)(5) and (7). [P.8]
The problem is caused by the thick film ignition (``TFI'') modules,
a key ignition-system component that Ford installed in more than 22
million vehicles it manufactured and sold in the 1983 through 1995
model years. The TFI module regulates the electrical current that fires
the air-fuel mixture in each of the engine's cylinders. To reduce
costs, Ford installed the TFI on the distributor, one of the hottest
locations under the hood. But because the TFI module is sensitive to
heat, its mounting location creates an inordinate propensity for the
TFI module to fail due to thermal stress. Making the problem even more
insidious is its phantom nature. A TFI module can fail on an
intermittent basis when hot, then function again when the engine cools,
without leaving a trace of physical evidence that the TFI module had
Rather than bearing the expense of moving the TFI module to a
cooler location away from the engine--a solution that Ford engineers
recommended to management for years--Ford decided to employ a less
costly solution: to leave the module on the distributor, but make it
last long enough to function during the warranty period, thereby
forcing consumers to bear the cost of post-warranty failures that Ford
knew would continue to occur in large numbers. As a result, over 13
million replacement TFI modules (which are designed to last for the
life of the vehicle without maintenance or repair) have been sold to
consumers at a cost of nearly $2 billion.
Despite an extraordinary number of complaints from consumers, Ford
managed to conceal the TFI problem from government regulators. From
1983 through 1989 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) conducted five separate investigations into stalling complaints
by Ford customers. In response to these investigations, Ford concealed
what it knew about the TFI problem and persuaded NHTSA to close each
investigation without taking action. As a result of the class action,
NHTSA opened an investigation in 1997, in which it concluded that Ford
had withheld key documents during earlier investigations. By then, the
8-year statute of limitations on NHTSA's authority to order a recall
had expired, preventing NHTSA from taking any meaningful enforcement
Ford continues to deny that TFI-related stalling causes a safety
risk. According to Ford, TFI failure causes the vehicle to buck,
hesitate, and experience other ``driveability'' symptoms that provide a
warning that the TFI module is about to fail. But Ford took the exact
opposite position when it attempted to excuse its failure to report to
the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources
Board over 1 million TFI modules (which EPA and CARB deem ``emissions-
related'' components) that were returned under warranty. In direct
contradiction to Ford's contention that TFI module failure does not
pose a safety risk because TFI-induced bucking and hesitation provides
plenty of warning, Ford claimed that TFI module failure cannot affect
air quality because such failure occurs suddenly and without warning.
Having concealed the true nature and scope of the TFI defect from
NHTSA, from EPA, and other regulatory agencies, Ford then used its
bargaining power to keep secret the information about the TFI defect in
the only other context in which the truth could air: private civil
litigation. Given the intermittent, phantom nature of the TFI problem,
few people ever discovered that TFI failure was the cause of their
injuries, and even fewer sued because of it. When personal-injury
plaintiffs did discover what Ford knew about the problem, Ford paid
millions of dollars in settlements requiring lawyers to return hot
documents, remain silent about what they learned from those documents,
and refrain from assisting others in similar litigation against Ford.
Just as in Firestone tires on Ford Explorers, the TFI product liability
cases against Ford involve tragic injuries. In Phan v Budget Rent a Car
& Ford Motor Co., there were two deaths, one quadriplegic and four
other injuries when a 1990 Mercury Sable stalled at highway speeds.
In the recall of Ford Explorers for Firestone tire tread
separations, Ford President & CEO Jac Nasser has repeatedly told the
American public that ``Your Safety Is Our Top Priority.'' Yet in Howard
v Ford Motor Co., Ford told the court it didn't know what safety was.
As Judge Ballachey observed after hearing the testimony of top
executives including its former CEO Harold Poling, its former Vice
Chairman Louis Ross and Vice Presidents Robert Transou and Helen
Petrauskus among others:
LFord's dissimulation reached its nadir in the testimony of Bob
Wheaton, Ford's witness designated as most knowledgeable about safety
issues when he insisted that ``safe is too subjective'' and denied
knowledge of any ``written definition of what safe is within Ford Motor
Company.'' Other Ford executives were similarly evasive when pressed on
the question of whether or not a failed TFI module, under any
circumstances, presented an unreasonable risk of safety. [P. 5].
Yet the case law on safety defects is very clear in establishing a
per se theory of failure of any component which can lead to loss of
control or mobility or fire which requires showing only that such a
critical component failed and that there need not be any crashes,
injuries or deaths, just the unreasonable risk or crashes, injuries or
deaths. The leading case on defects under the Vehicle Safety Act is
United States v. General Motors, 518 F.2d 420 (DC Cir. 1975), which
involved the recall of 200,000 GM pickups for Kelsy-Hayes wheel
failures. NHTSA opened the investigation based on a report of a single
failure from Ralph Nader and ultimately showed a failure rate of under
0.2%. The US Court of Appeals decision upholding the recall established
the key requirements for recalls:
Non de minimis number of failures in use which normally will
not be a substantial percentage of components produced.
Function of failure rate and severity of consequences.
Ordinary owner abuse such as tire underinflation must be
anticipated by manufacturer.
Need not show any deaths or injuries.
Why Didn't NHTSA Learn About Firestone/Ford Earlier
Tire defects are difficult to discover because so few consumers
complain about them and because existing crash data bases are not
detailed enough to identify them. When CAS initiated its efforts on the
Firestone 500, we received no more than 100 tire complaints per year
compared to 15,000 vehicle complaints. NHTSA is no different than CAS
and receives very few tire complaints compared to vehicle complaints.
To compound matters, few of the consumers who do complain provide the
crucial tire identification number located on the inside side wall or
even the size and model of tire. CAS goes back to consumers for such
information but can no longer do so in the case of complaints in
NHTSA's data base because NHTSA keeps their identity confidential.
NHTSA should have opened an investigation in 1998 when State Farm
provided information on the 21 claims because the agency often opens a
defect investigation on as few as two complaints as this Committee has
noted in the past. Rather than being low, the 21 State Farm claims is
almost astronomical. NHTSA needs to cast a broader net on tire
complaints because so few come into the agency and because the
consequence of tire failure can be so catastrophic compared to other
defects. If NHTSA doesn't have the authority to compel information on
foreign recalls, then it should be given that authority by Congress.
The biggest single problem in the National Traffic and Motor
Vehicle Safety Act is that it has no teeth if a manufacturer covers up
a defect. As shown above, Ford Motor Company is a recidivist when it
comes to covering up defects and avoiding recalls. The best way to make
Ford and other auto and tire companies obey the law is to put criminal
penalties into the law which the industry successfully lobbied against
when the Safety Act was passed in 1966.
A particular dilemma with tire recalls is that a manufacturer has
no obligation to replace a tire for free if it is more than 3 years
old. With radial tires that last 50,000 miles or more, this limit
should be repealed. If a manufacturer conceals a defect until the
statutory period for free repair or replacement expires, they can get
away without a recall. In cases of concealment, the statutory limit on
free replacement and repair should be tolled. Moreover, the statute
does not provide for reimbursement where a consumer pays for
replacement or repair prior to a recall. Congress should remedy that by
providing for reimbursement in the statute.
The Firestone/Ford recall of 6.5 million tires to date shows
another problem in the recall system--the shortage of critical safety
components such as these tires in large recalls. If parts and tires are
unavailable from the recalling manufacturer, then the public rides at
risk until replacements become available for their vehicles. CAS is
aware of at least 5 deaths in rollover accidents involving Firestone
tire tread separation on Ford Explorers since the initial recall was
announced. Although Ford and Firestone have announced they would
reimburse consumers who buy competitor tires, there is no guarantee
they will do so. Indeed, Firestone rescinded its offer until a Kentucky
court issues an order prohibiting it. The Safety Act should be amended
to give NHTSA the authority to order replacement and repair from
competitors where there is an imminent safety hazard and the recalling
company cannot meet demand.
Since NHTSA failed to implement this Committee's recommendation in
1978 that FMVSS 109 be upgraded, Congress should amend the Safety Act
to require NHTSA to upgrade not only FMVSS 109 but also FMVSS 119 with
specific direction to determine whether a even more stringent tire
standard should be set for SUVs with their higher rollover propensity
than passenger cars. This Committee should also direct NHTSA to
reassess its 1981 decision to drop its proposed rulemaking on low tire
pressure warning devices.
The Safety Act should be amended to provide criminal penalties for
knowing and willful violations of safety standards and refusal to
recall in line with FDA and CPSC authority and in removing the ceiling
on civil penalties under the Safety Act to be in line with the Clean
Air Act which has no ceiling for violation of vehicle emission
standards. Other needed legislative changes include:
Repeal the statutory limit on recalls.
Toll the statute of limitation where auto and tire companies
Give NHTSA the authority to order replacement and repair
from competitors where there is an imminent safety hazard and
the recalling company cannot meet demand.
Provide for reimbursement of repairs and replacements made
prior to recall.
Require NHTSA to upgrade not only FMVSS 109 but also FMVSS
119 with specific direction to determine whether an even more
stringent tire standard should be set for SUVs with their
higher rollover propensity than passenger cars. This Committee
should also direct NHTSA to reassess its 1981 decision to drop
its proposed rulemaking on low tire pressure warning devices.
These legislative recommendations are designed to prevent another
public safety crisis like the Firestone tires on Ford Explorers from
ever happening again. But for now, the single most important thing to
be done is for Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone to recall all ATX, ATX II
and Wilderness tires regardless of size and plant where made.
The Chairman. Thank you very much, Mr. Ditlow. What can
U.S. corporations and NHTSA and the Congress do to improve our
ability to identify a consumer safety problem sooner? It seems
to me that while we may not have issues of this magnitude,
quite often we are sort of like the guy following the parade.
How do we get out in front on these situations more
Mr. Ditlow. Ford and Firestone are learning a terrible
lesson. That when you cover up a safety problem and do not
exercise leadership, it costs sales. But for the government
agencies, their only way to do this is to have a stronger
enforcement mechanism. Unfortunately, they have to use the
bully pulpit. They have to expose these problems. But for the
The Chairman. Is it instructive, the response to Senator
Hollings' questions that there has been no initiated recall in
the last 5 years by NHTSA?
Mr. Ditlow. I think the auto companies over the last--not
just the last 5 years, but the last 15 years, have recognized
that NHTSA is not a strong enforcer and will not go to the mat
for a mandatory recall.
The Chairman. Do you share that view, Ms. Claybrook?
Ms. Claybrook. I do. I think there are a number of things
that NHTSA could do which include having relationships with
auto repair facilities, independent auto repair shops, which we
did in the 1970's, asking them to send in defective products,
and working with insurance companies on a regular basis. And I
think your legislation should cover, as the Secretary
suggested, requirements for the companies to send NHTSA
information on a regular basis. NHTSA also should get
notification of lawsuits by the companies, and ask lawyers who
have cases to resist protective orders or at least let the
agency know that there is such a gag order. NHTSA should work
with fleet owners. There are a lot of fleet owners who would be
very cooperative. And state agency fleet owners, as in Arizona
The Chairman. Mr. Ditlow, please continue.
Mr. Ditlow. I agree with Joan wholeheartedly. And I have
detailed recommendations along those lines. And we need the
cooperation of a wide sector to get defect investigations and
recalls done. So I would just answer questions now.
The Chairman. Let us talk about the foreign problem again.
How do we do a better job if there is a recall in Saudi Arabia
of tires--well, let us use Venezuela because the argument is
that they were different kinds of tires. Venezuela problems
arose there. And yet, apparently neither NHTSA nor anybody else
that was in a position of authority knew about it. What do you
do about that situation? I will begin with you, Mr. Ditlow.
Mr. Ditlow. We have multi-national corporations who market
in different countries. And with that goes an obligation to
respond to report problems in foreign countries here. I mean, I
think everyone now agrees that there should be reporting. But
NHTSA should issue a regulation tomorrow requiring that
The Chairman. Ms. Claybrook.
Ms. Claybrook. NHTSA has issued something called ``The
Global Agreement to Harmonize Motor Vehicle Standards'' that
the auto companies have been pushing for for a long time,
because they want to have the ability to sell a product in any
country with the same standards. But they have never issued
anything for international cooperation in any formal way on
enforcement and defects as they have with standards to
enforcement. If the companies are going to get the benefit of
the standards being harmonized, I think that they should have
the obligation and responsibility to also participate in
reporting defects. And this can come from the companies as well
as from foreign governments, from both.
The Chairman. I want to thank both of you. We want to work
with you as we develop this legislation. I want to make a
caution though here to both of you who are committed public
advocates. Too often, we try to make the perfect be the enemy
of the good here. I think we ought to do what we can in the
next several weeks and get legislation passed. And then I am
committed to going back again next year and looking at
additional legislation. Because we are going to have to build
consensus on this if we expect to pass some important aspects
of what clearly are a myriad of issues here concerning safety.
So I look forward to working with you and hope that we will
be able to come up with something very important, very
substantive, but with the recognition that in this relatively
short period of time, we are not going to be able to do
Ms. Claybrook. Deal.
The Chairman. It is agreed. Thank you very much.
Ms. Claybrook. So you put us on the hot seat just like the
The Chairman. Thank you for being here.
[Whereupon, at 1:20 p.m., the committee was adjourned.]
Letter From John T. Lampe, Executive Vice-President, Bridgestone/
September 20, 2000.
Hon. John McCain,
Senate Commerce Committee,
Science and Transportation Subcommittee,
Hon. Olympia J. Snowe,
United State Senate,
Re: Hearing on Ford-Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Recall
Dear Chairman McCain and Senator Snowe:
At the September 12, 2000 Commerce Committee hearing, I referred to
a 1996 report pertaining to tire inspections that Bridgestone/Firestone
conducted at the behest of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. A copy
of that report was forwarded to you on September 19, along with a
second, independent tire inspection report that Bridgestone/Firestone
completed on April 16, 1997.
I based my September 12 testimony on verbal reports from
Bridgestone/Firestone personnel who relied on their recollection of
those events. After reviewing the reports, I am writing to clarify my
testimony, which regrettably contained some inaccuracies. The vast
majority of the tires identified in the reports were ``LT'' (light
truck) tires, not passenger tires as I originally believed, and the
application of such LT tires in off-road conditions is not improper. I
was, however, correct that a substantial majority of the tires were not
the size recommended by the vehicle manufacturer for the Department's
The Arizona inspection revealed no defects pertinent to the sizes
and types of tires subject to Bridgestone/Firestone's recently
announced United States recall. The recall affects passenger-sized
tires, not those tires sized for light trucks. Also, the types of most
tires analyzed in the Arizona reports were of the Firehawk ATX and
Steeltex lines, not the Wilderness AT and Radial ATX/ATXII tires
subject to recall.
I will continue to apprise you immediately of any new information
related to this matter should I receive it. I remain dedicated to
cooperating fully with you and your Committee.
John T. Lampe,