Car giant Ford released documents (13/8/00) showing that Bridgestone/Firestone began receiving complaints about the recently recalled tyres back in 1997, say US press reports (13/8/00).

The 'New York Times' - citing Ford - says that some of the recalled tyres have injury rates and personal damage claims up to 100 times greater compared to those tyres not recalled. Many of the claims, sent to Bridgestone by vehicle owners from 1997 to 1999, were not disclosed by the tyre-maker to Ford, says the US car maker.

According to Ford, it learned of the high claim rate only a week ago, when it carried out its own computer analysis of Bridgestone's data. Quoting a person briefed on Ford's work on this issue, the report says that Bridgestone had resisted Ford`s disclosure of the information.

Ford also said that the main source of the tyres under question was Bridgestone`s Decatur, Ill., factory, where quality problems surfaced between 1994 and 1996. Within this time, the factory employed mainly replacement workers because of a labor dispute between Bridgestone and its union, although Ford did not mention this information on the 13/8/00, says the newspaper.

Officials at Bridgestone said they did not dispute the data from Ford, but the problem had only caught its attention once Ford had began reviewing the tyre-makers' files two weeks ago.

Quoting Bridgestone's Vice President of Quality Assurance Bob Wyant, the article says that the rate of complaints overall from all Bridgestone factories has not been unusually high, and that the tyre-maker did not conduct as detailed a review of tyre quality by factory as Ford had undertaken.

Bridgestone spokeswoman Chris Karbowiak said that there was no evidence to suggest that the labor dispute in Decatur had affected quality, reports the 'N.Y. Times'. She continued, saying that during a press conference (13/8/00), Ford had given the Decatur plant a quality award.

Claims for Wilderness AT tyres were just one to six tread separations per million from factories other than Decatur, says the Ford data. For Wilderness tyres from Decatur, the claim rate for injury and property damage was more than 50 per million tyres for 1996 with 1997 registering similar levels.

Claims for ATX tyres was higher, says the report, with all tyres being recalled in the P235/75R15 size regardless from where they were produced. For factories other than Decatur, the rate approached 100 claims per million tyres produced from 1993 to 1995.

The rate of claims for the Decatur plant however soared to between 350 and 650 claims per million ATX tyres, produced in 1994, 1995 and 1996. In 1997, the claims rate for Wilderness tyres began to fall with the rate now virtually on par with the levels for these tyres made elsewhere, says Mr Jason Vines, spokesman for Ford.

All Wilderness tyres made in Decatur in 1996 have been recalled as a precaution, says Bridgestone, with both the tyre-maker and Ford recalling a larger size of the Wilderness tyre used on Ford Explorers in four foreign countries. This larger size tyre is included on the more expensive Ford Explorer in the US, says the newspaper.