IN THE NEWS #445 - Firestone/Ford Tire Case

By Caty Weaver

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

American officials are investigating the Ford Motor Company and the Japanese tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone. Firestone tires on Ford vehicles have been linked to accidents in the United States and other countries. A tire may suddenly break apart; often, the vehicle rolls over. Ford put the tires on its Explorer sport-utility vehicle and other light trucks.

The Justice Department is now looking into the case. Attorney General Janet Reno says her lawyers are investigating if officials of either company violated any criminal or civil laws.

In the United States, the tires may be linked to at least eighty-eight deaths. In Venezuela, officials this week called for criminal charges in forty-six deaths there. Also, many people have been injured.

Family members of victims began the first legal action against Bridgestone/Firestone in Nineteen-Ninety-Two. Last month, Firestone recalled six-and-a-half million tires on Ford vehicles for replacement.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives held hearings this week. The chiefs of Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone answered questions. Bridgestone/Firestone's Masatoshi Ono said he apologized to the American people, especially the families of those killed in the rollover accidents. He said he was accepting full and personal responsibility for the events that led to the hearing where he spoke.

A lawmaker asked Mr. Ono what he thought caused the tire problems. Mr. Ono said he believed the problems were caused by a lack of care for the tires. But, he also said his company was examining all steps in its manufacturing and quality control processes.

Lawmakers wanted to know how long both companies had known about the problems. Ford chief Jacques Nasser said his company did not learn of the tire failures until earlier this summer. He suggested that Ford had to struggle with Bridgestone/Firestone to get information about the tires. Mr. Nasser said Ford engineers then discovered evidence that the tires were not made correctly.

In Nineteen-Ninety-Nine, Ford replaced fifty-thousand of the same tires on vehicles in other countries. But Ford says it did not think the tires were the problem then. The company says it believed those tires had been damaged by rough roads in the Middle East and Latin America.

One senator accused Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone of hiding information from the public. Another said their actions could be seen as murder.

The hearings also involved the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That agency has received almost one-thousand-five-hundred reports of problems with the Firestone tires. The chief official said her agency is considering new measures. One would require companies to report safety problems with products they sell in other countries.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English