Firestone tyres made in Decatur appear to have higher failure rates than tyres made at Firestone's other plants because most of them were on Ford Explorers distributed in the southeast and southwest parts of the U.S., according to testimony of Robert Martin, a Firestone vice president of Quality Assurance who retired earlier this year.

Overwhelming reports of tyre failure in the southeast and southwest prompted Firestone and Ford to recall 6.5 million tyres in August of this year. The recall was limited to include only 15-inch Wilderness tyres made in Decatur and 15-inch ATX and ATX II tyres.

"Mr. Martin's testimony is the first time that a representative of either Ford or Firestone has publicly admitted that blaming all the bad tyres on the Decatur plant is unfounded. As we have insisted from the outset, Wilderness tyres -- regardless of plant origin -- are all of the same design, all made the same way, and all suffer from the same defect. Telling the American public that it's safe to ride on these tyres is wrong, misleading and irresponsible," said Little Rock, Arkansas attorney Tab Turner.

Turner is Safetyforum.com's "Attorney of Record" for tyres and participated in the deposition taken in Nashville.

Turner emphasised that his words of caution apply even to replacement Firestone Wilderness tyres installed during Firestone's recall. Firestone recently announced that it is nearing completion of its recall.

"All they've done is given people a false sense of safety and security. All of these tyres are defective, regardless of size, age or plant origin," Turner said.

A Safetyforum.com review of 80 lawsuits for which the source plants for both the tyres and vehicles are known, tends to confirm Martin's testimony.

Virtually all of the lawsuits are in hot southern or western states. About one third of the vehicles were Explorers made in St. Louis. Decatur tyres were on 83% of those vehicles. Only 42 percent of the Explorers from Louisville had tyres from Decatur.

The Washington Post reported last Friday that a Ford spokesman "confirmed that officials in the truck division thought that generally most of the Explorers built in (St. Louis) went to the west, while Louisville, Kentucky-built Explorers went to the East."

Firestone's Martin, who retired in April, explained during a recent deposition that the impression that Decatur is the source of most defective Wilderness tyres is a statistical aberration.

He attributed the over representation of Decatur tyres to Firestone and Ford's distribution patterns. Most of the Decatur tyres were shipped to Ford's Explorer plant in St. Louis, Missouri. Most Explorers made in St. Louis are shipped to the southeast and southwest where extreme heat hastens the tyres' deterioration.

Martin testified that, "There are two plants that built Explorer vehicles. One is in Louisville and one is in St. Louis. And from a sheer logistics point of view, the Decatur tyres would go to the St. Louis-built vehicles more so than Louisville and those vehicles more so would go west and south."

When asked to explain why there appeared to be a higher percentage of failures coming out of the Decatur plant as opposed to the other plants, Martin responded, "I believe I answered that previously. About what would cause it ... I talked about distribution, the assembly plants that were provided by our company. Decatur to St. Louis, Wilson to Louisville, distribution of those vehicles to the Southwest, Southeast."

Turner reiterated, "We have contended from the outset that the public needs to know this type of information in order to make an informed decision about whether families should be using Wilderness AT tyres on any vehicle regardless of the plant of origin or whether they were original or replacement tyres installed during the recall. Telling the public that its safe to continue to carry families on these tyres so long as they did not come from Decatur is simply irresponsible conduct."