NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said it provided some tires to Ford Motor Co. in Venezuela that did not have a safety layer Ford had requested even though the tires were marked as having such.
Venezuelan authorities are investigating the tires in connection with 62 accidents there and are expected to submit a report to the country's attorney general that could lead to fines or criminal prosecution against the tire maker and Ford.
Bridgestone/Firestone said the labeling mistake has been corrected and the company has no plans to a conduct a voluntary recall of tires made in Venezuela, even though Ford said it is pushing for it. However, Venezuelan dealers were asked Thursday to begin returning their inventories of mislabeled tires to the company, Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said.
"The inadvertent marking errors had no bearing on tire quality, performance or safety," Karbowiak said. "In addition, this mismarking situation is totally unrelated to the U.S. recall ... None of the mismarked tires were made in the United States or exported to the United States."
Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said the automaker began voluntarily replacing tires on about 40,000 Explorers and light trucks in Venezuela this spring after hearing reports of tread separations.
The extra nylon layer between the tires' steel belt and tread was requested to accommodate the hotter, more humid and demanding driving conditions in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, Ford said.
Tire company spokesman Ken Fields said Ford asked for the extra nylon layer in two types of Wilderness AT tires in January 1999. Firestone's Venezuela plant began producing the tires in June of that year. However, Fields said, Firestone "inadvertently began marking tires without a cap ply as tires that had a cap ply" prior to June.
Fields could not say for how long the tires were mismarked or how many mismarked tires were delivered.
Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, said Bridgestone/Firestone officials told congressional investigators that nine models made and sold in Venezuela -- not two -- had been mislabeled.
The investigators also discovered that Firestone knew about the problem in Venezuela last year, Dingell said.
"I think that you can say at this time that there are significant problems at Firestone," he said. In response to Dingell's account, Fields said: "I don't know the details of the timing on when the error was discovered, nor do I know the number of models affected."
Congress is holding hearings in Washington, D.C., next month to examine the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires in the United States after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating reports of at least 62 deaths.
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