WASHINGTON -- Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., "shaken to the core" by a recall of tires linked to 101 U.S. traffic deaths, told a congressional panel Thursday that Ford Motor Co.'s recommended tire pressure apparently contributed to accidents.
Executive vice president John Lampe told a House subcommittee investigating the recall that his company recommended the tires be inflated to 30 pounds per square inch (PSI). But Ford, which uses the tires on its popular Explorer and some other light trucks, suggested they only be inflated to 26 pounds.
"Running an Explorer at low tire pressure, overloaded, particularly in hot climates appears to be a serious part of the problem we are now facing" Lampe said.
"We believe very strongly that 30 PSI provides the consumer with additional safety margin; at 30 PSI, the Explorer can handle higher speeds and over 400 pounds greater load than at 26 PSI."
Lampe said Bridgestone/Firestone send a letter to Ford on Wednesday urging the company to change its recommendation to 30 PSI.
Ford officials have said the lower tire pressure was recommended for a smoother ride and did not compromise safety. Critics have said the move was to make the Explorer less susceptible to rollovers.
Bridgestone/Firestone last month recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, most of which were original equipment on Ford Explorers. Thousands of people have reported tread separations, blowouts and other problems with the tires.
At the opening of the hearing, Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee, said Bridgestone/Firestone's own testing indicated problems with the tires in 1996, yet the company did nothing.
Ford officials acknowledged Wednesday that the company did not conduct a durability test of the Firestone tires on the Explorer before the world's best-selling sport utility vehicle went into production.
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