Prepared statement of Helen Petrauskas,Ford Motor Company.

Before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, U.S. House of Representatives


Good morning, Chairman Tauzin, Chairman Upton, and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. In response to the committee's request, Ford has provided extensive documentation related to two testing issues. First, we have provided documents on tire testing. Second, we have provided documents related to the testing and performance of the Explorer with respect to handling and stability.

Tire Testing

The documents we provided your committee conclusively demonstrate that Ford performed thorough, complete and rigorous testing of the subject tires. They show that Firestone agreed and has repeatedly supported the recommended tire pressure of 26 psi. Finally, the documents demonstrate that all requisite testing was done at 26 psi, the tire pressure recommended to our customers.

A great deal of attention has been paid to high speed testing. Specifically, our test procedure provides that testing should be done by running the tires for at least 200 miles at a minimum speed of 90 miles per hour with tire pressure as recommended to the customer. This test was conducted for the four different 15 inch tires used on the Explorer since its introduction. Typically, this testing is done on a "slave or mule" vehicle that is modified to duplicate the weight distribution of each of the vehicles that will use the tires being tested.

Vehicle Handling and Stability Testing

The starting point for Ford Motor Company's approach to continuous improvement to safety for all products is Ford's Safety Design Guidelines. These guidelines are continuously updated and go well beyond government regulations. Safety Design Guidelines are intended to provide continuous improvement to enhance the already extensive Ford efforts to provide vehicles that exhibit a high level of safety.

Prominent among these safety guidelines is Ford's guideline on resistance to rollover. The objective of this guideline is to design and develop a vehicle that will remain stable under all operational conditions, including accident avoidance maneuvers. The guideline states that the vehicle should respond in a predictable manner and give the driver perceptible signals that the vehicle is at its limit.

Our extensive handling testing is supplemented by specific testing focusing on vehicle behavior in violent maneuvers. One of the most extreme tests is the so called "J-turn" test, a test that was performed on the 1991 Explorer.

The Explorer met or exceeded all J-turn test critieria not only at the recommended tire pressure of 26 psi, but also at the maximum tire pressure for the ATX tire of 35 psi. This conclusion was validated by both track testing and computer simulation.

And it continues to be validated by real world performance. Even including the accidents likely caused by tread separations the Explorer continues to perform 27 percent better than the average passenger car and 17 percent better than the average compact SUV in serious accidents. Contrary to assertions made recently in the press as recently as today, an evaluation of single vehicle rollover accidents shows that the Explorer performs better in these kinds of crashes than the average compact SUV.

Finally, some have asked whether Explorers are more likely to suffer a rollover after a catastrophic tread separation. The fact is that the Explorer had the misfortune of being equipped with virtually all of the recalled tires that were produced. But even with that considerable handicap, federal government statistics show the Explorer to be one of the safest vehicles on the road, in both single and multiple vehicle accidents.

Conclusion

We have done our utmost to provide the committee with everything that has been requested. The submission includes formal signoff documents, engineering reports, and comprehensive data tabulations. It also includes engineers' handwritten notes, e-mail messages to one another and vast amounts of testing done at design levels other than the design level that ultimately went into production. These documents paint a picture of the day-to-day work of engineers as they develop a product.

They reflect debates among engineers as to alternatives that might be considered, and differences of opinion as to the best approach to be taken.

There are letters to suppliers, including tire suppliers, indicating improvements needed in one or another tire characteristic. But also reflected in all this paper is the constant striving by thousands of Ford Motor Company employees to make this product even better.