Ford Motor Co. was possibly aware that its Explorer models were fitted with dangerous tyres in early 1999 and that Firestone was aware of the danger three years earlier, says Detroit Free Press (12/9/00) citing newly-released documents.

The documents - two of which were written by Ford executives in two different countries back in January 1999 - were released to the media by the House Commerce Committee late Monday (11/9/00). The memos suggest that some at Ford knew of the problems with Firestone tyres which were finally recalled on August 9.

The report cites a memo - dated January 28, 1999 - which suggests that a Ford official in Dubai warned US-based Ford executives of growing problems with tyres in Saudi Arabia. This official urged Ford to open a probe into customer and dealer complaints as to why tyres were losing their tread and causing rollover accidents in the sports utilities.

Quoting a memo - written by Glenn R. Drake, a Ford Export Market Executive to Melanie Gumz, a product-concerns supervisor - Detroit Free Press reports that Firestone was possibly not telling the whole story to protect itself from either a recall or a lawsuit.

As of last week, Firestone said it was still investigating the problem although it has blamed both Ford and owners for under-inflating the tyres.

Another document - written by a Venezuelan executive and dated January 12, 1999 - suggests that Ford officials in that region were also aware of the problems associated with Firestone tyres.

This document, described in the press article as a 'technical assistance to supplier report', seems to suggest that problems maintaining quality controls were present at Firestone`s Venezuelan site.

Detroit Free Press also cites an internal Ford document - dated July 8, 1999 - which expresses concerns that lower tyre pressures recommended in Venezuela might contribute to tread detachments. High temperatures, off-road use, overload, extended high-speed travel and improper repairs were also listed as contributory factors.

This memo was dated 10 months before the US car giant announced the recall of tyres in Venezuela and more than a year before a tyre recall was issued for the US. Tyre replacements in both Saudi Arabia and Venezuela took place back in July 1999.

In his House Committee testimony, Ford Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser said that Ford did not know of the serious problems with the Firestone tyres until this July when information was `pried` from the tyre manufacturer.

Once Ford was aware of the defective nature of the tyres, Nasser said he pushed Firestone for a tyre recall, says the US media report.