Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said Wednesday it would recall millions of tires that might be related to hundreds of automobile accidents, including more than 40 fatalities.
Reports indicate the tread peels from the tire casing at high speeds. Bridgestone/Firestone will replace the tires at no charge.
The 6.5 million tires being recalled are on pickups and sport utility vehicles. They include Firestone radial ATX and radial ATX II tires made in North America, and Wilderness AT tires made in Decatur, Ill.
Bridgestone/Firestone stopped short, however, of acknowledging that the tires are defective or identifying the cause of the problems. Instead, company officials said they are cooperating with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation.
"We felt we must take this extraordinary step as a precaution to ensure consumer safety and consumer confidence in our brands," Gary Crigger, Bridgestone/Firestone executive vice president, said at a news conference in Washington. "So, no matter how many tires, no matter how many miles they have on them, we will replace them with new tires."
Mr. Crigger also emphasized proper tire care and inflation are critical to tire safety and said that in many of the cases involving the Firestones, the tires did not appear to have been well maintained.
The company has not yet identified any problems. But most of the complaints came from states with warm climates where heat could have affected the tires and might be associated with the separation, Mr. Crigger suggested.
He declined to estimate how much the recall would cost.
Wilderness tires produced at other plants, including the Bridgestone/Firestone factory in Aiken, were not involved in the incidents and are not being recalled, company officials said.
In fact, the Wilderness tires produced in Aiken will be used as replacements, and the company planned to boost production. Officials did not say when or by how much.
About 14.4 million of the tires named in the recall have been produced, the company said. Only about 6.5 million of them - 3.8 million ATX and ATX II tires and 2.7 million Wilderness AT tires - are in use, officials estimated.
Ford Motor Co. estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of those tires are on Ford automobiles. Ford, which has had a relationship with the tiremaker for about a century, is one of Firestone's biggest customers.
Ford officials said the company will continue using Firestone tires.
Other carmakers using Firestone tires - General Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Subaru - said they have received no complaints about the tires.
Firestone and Ford dealers will replace the old tires and mount and balance the new tires at no charge. They will use comparable tires made by Firestone or a competitor if they do not have suitable replacements available, officials said.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the tire company said the tires in question were among the safest on the road, and that the company had not slowed or suspended production.
On Wednesday, the company said it was no longer making the recalled tires.
Ninety complaints about the tires surfaced earlier this year, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokeswoman Liz Neblett said. That number grew to 270, including reports of 80 injuries and 46 deaths.
Bridgestone/Firestone, based in Nashville, Tenn., is a subsidiary of Bridgestone Corp., based in Tokyo. Bridgestone acquired Firestone in 1988 and opened a tire factory in Aiken in 1998. The company recently expanded the plant to meet the demand for sport utility vehicles.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.
Reach Frank Witsil at 823-3352.
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