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Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Firestone Tire Recall

Aired September 12, 2000 - 11:36 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring you live now to Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by John McCain, now hearing the testimony of the Bridgestone/Firestone CEO, that is Masatoshi Ono, now speaking with his statement live in Washington.


MASATOSHI ONO, CEO, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE: ... resolving this situation and regaining the trust of our customer. My experience last week is that my problem with the English may have limited our ability to explain important issues to you and the American people. So I ask that our remarks be completed by our Executive Vice President, Mr. John Lampe.

JOHN LAMPE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE: Mr. Chairman, Senator Hollings, members of the committee, with your permission, my name is John Lampe. I'm an executive vice president with Bridgestone/Firestone.

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 will, 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 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 didn't see the problem.

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.

LAMPE: 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 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 us serious injuries or death is devastating to us. And, Senator Frist, I am very 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 and 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've narrowed the focus and believe the solution may lie in two areas: the unique design specification of the size P-235-75-15, combined with variations in the manufacturing process at the Decatur plant.

We are appointing Dr. Sanjay Govince (ph), 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 puzzle.

The entire issue of tire inflation pressures selected by the vehicle manufacturer must be addressed. Does it provide adequate safety margin to guard against damage caused by underinflation and overloading? For example, at 26 psi -- at 26 pounds per square inch the Ford Explorer has little safety margin to guard against overloading, one of the reasons 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, the experience of a tire failure, the driver can bring that automobile under safe control. 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 of public safety, one of the areas of focus for future evaluations by NHTSA, by us, by the automobile industry, should be the interaction between the tire and the vehicle.

The senator's 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 the problems we had and that we know recognize in our tires.

Where do we see the future? First, the tire industry, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the auto industry all need to work together to immediately detect and address tire problems and vehicle problems. We fully support 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 systems. 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 question 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 Steelworkers of America. The United Steelworkers 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'm sure I'll get the opportunity to do that in the question and answers.

I would close in saying that mistakes can 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 have here.

HEMMER: Representives from Bridgestone/Firestone, again, Senate Commerce Committee live on Capitol Hill. That hearing continues.



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