NHTSA: More Tire Deaths

With Ford and Firestone already under fire on several fronts, the federal government now says it knows of 88 deaths believed to be linked to faulty tires.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Ford Motor Co. agreed today to testify before a congressional committee looking into the recall of 6.5 million tires and said his company would release to the public documents showing “what we knew, when we knew it and what we did about it.”

Also today, the Venezuelan consumer protection agency urged criminal prosecution of Ford and Firestone for their role in deadly traffic accidents there. The Venezuelan agency, Indecu, charges the companies suppressed information about defective tires on Ford vehicles.

“Thousands of tires still on the road, must be recalled,” said Samuel Ruh Rios, the agency president. “Ford and Firestone are guilty of negligence. They lied and deceived customers.”

Ford CEO Jacques Nasser defended Ford against today’s allegations and blamed Firestone for producing bad tires. He called Rios allegations “completely unfounded.”

“We’ve had impeccable business practices in Venezuela and throughout the world,” Nasser said. “We’re going to work with Indecu to resolve this and we’re going to begin that very quickly.”

Death Toll Rises The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this afternoon it has now received 1,400 complaints involving 250 injuries and 88 deaths in the United States believed to be attributable to faulty tires. Those numbers have increased from 750 complaints involving 100 injuries and 62 deaths.

The agency is investigating accidents that may have been the result of blowouts, tread separation and other problems with the Firestone tires.

Firestone announced the recall of 6.5 million Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires in the United States on Aug. 9, three months after NHTSA began its probe, but nine months after Ford started recalling tires overseas.

Ford and Firestone have said they do not know the cause of the problems, but based the recall on data showing a complaint rate for the tires under recall far higher than for other tires.

In unrelated incidents, Firestone is facing a strike by 8,000 union members that may start Saturday and a California judge said he may order a recall of up to 2 million Ford vehicles, saying they are prone to stalling. (See related story.)

CEO Will Testify

At a press conference in Detroit, Nasser expressed sympathy to any victims of accidents due to faulty tires on the company’s vehicles.

“At this point it’s a very difficult situation to everyone,” Nasser said. “I’d like you to know we’re sorry that these tires are on our vehicles and I’m depressed about the resulting anxiety, injuries and deaths.”

Nasser has said he will attend House subcommittee hearings on Sept. 6. Previously, Nasser said he was too busy managing the tire recall, and would send subordinates to testify in front of the committee.

Bridgestone/Firestone Chief Executive Masatoshi Ono also is expected to testify at the House hearing. The Senate is holding hearings on Sept. 12.

So far, Nasser said, 1.5 million tires — or 22 percent of the tires being recalled — have been replaced.

Venezuela Points Fingers

In Venezuela, the president of the nation’s consumer agency said Ford and Firestone shared responsibility for the problems and suppressed information that could have saved lives.

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