WASHINGTON -- From the beginning of the Firestone tire recall, Ford Motor Co. officials have insisted that the accidents that killed 101 Americans, most of them in Ford Explorers, are a Firestone tire problem.
"There are more than 3 million Goodyear tires on Ford Explorers that have not had, as far as we know, one tread separation problem," Ford President Jacques Nasser told Congress. "So we know that this is a Firestone tire issue, not a vehicle issue."
A Washington Post analysis of national and Florida crash statistics shows, however, that the Ford Explorer has a higher rate of tire-related accidents than other sport-utility vehicles -- even when the popular SUV is equipped with Goodyear tires. The finding suggests that something about the Explorer may be contributing to these accidents, auto analysts said.
James Fell, who retired last year as chief of research at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the findings give "an indication that there may be a factor with the Ford Explorer beyond the tire issue. It's a first indicator that they may have a stability problem."
Ford and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. officials criticized The Post's analysis, saying the number of accidents examined was too small to be meaningful, that the databases don't always accurately identify vehicles and that Explorers should not be compared with the entire universe of SUVs, which can range from two-seaters to behemoths.
The analysis also found the vast majority of the tire problems contributing to accidents happened after the vehicle had been on the road for three or four years.
Though tire blowouts are rarely the cause of accidents -- and Florida's climate is warmer, so its blowout rate may be higher than other states -- the differences The Post found in Florida between Explorers with Firestones or Goodyears and other SUVs is statistically "very, very significant," said Hans Joksch, a research scientist from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
"These are very simple, straightforward analyses that don't look at the fine points, but the results are so strong that it should lead to detailed study to what extent it's the tires, to what extent it's the Explorer, to the extent that it's Firestone and Goodyear," Joksch said. "The whole issue should be examined much more closely."
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