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Ford Motor Co. approved replacement tires for its Explorer sport utility vehicle that made it just as likely to roll over as the originals that Ford had blamed for more than 200 deaths. Ford’s test results of replacement tires, introduced as evidence in an Explorer trial in Mississippi, will support hundreds of pending lawsuits contending that this SUV is unstable and can roll over amid evasive driving maneuvers. Ford has lost six Explorer rollover cases in trials held during the past year. You will recall that in a 2000 government investigation into Explorer rollovers, Ford blamed the original Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires for the accidents.

It is pretty clear now that the Explorer rollovers can’t be blamed entirely – if at all – on the brand of tires in use. In computer simulations used to test substitutes, the Explorer tipped onto two wheels – a Ford indicator of rollover risk – on tires made by Goodyear, Michelin’s Uniroyal, Continental, and other manufacturers. It was revealed by Ford documents that the company approved some failed tires as replacements. The Explorer tipped most frequently in the vehicle’s two-wheel-drive model. Ford remodeled the Explorer for the 2002 model year, making it less susceptible to tire-related rollovers.

In Ford’s tests of replacement tires, the Explorer tipped onto two wheels on 15-inch models of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s Wrangler RTS/AT, Wrangler GS/A A/S, Wrangler HT A/S, and Wrangler Workhorse, as well as 16-inch models of Goodyear’s Wrangler and Eagle tires, according to a November 28, 2000, spreadsheet introduced as evidence in the trial. The spreadsheet listed the same results for 15-inch models of Continental AG’s General Tire Grabber and Continental Radial models, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s Roadmaster Roughneck, and all versions tested of Uniroyal’s Tiger Paw. In 2001, Ford approved as replacement tires the 15-inch Wrangler GS/A and HT and the 16-inch AP and RT/S, as well as General’s Grabber tire, according to a list provided to dealers. The computer tests, called ADAMS modeling, simulated a maneuver called a J-turn and were the primary procedure to test for resistance to rollovers. This has been verified in a deposition of a Ford executive (Thomas Baughman) taken in December 2000. In testimony before Congress in 2000, Helen Petrauskas, then the head of Ford safety, said the company required the Explorer to pass the J-turn test.

Source: Bloomberg News

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