NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Masatoshi Ono, chief executive and chairman of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., is reported to be retiring from the troubled tire maker.
John Lampe, an executive vice president, will be named as Ono's successor, according to a company source who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The announcement was expected to be made at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Ono, 63, testified during a daylong deposition Monday that he offered to retire as head of U.S. operations for Tokyo-based parent company, Bridgestone Corp., about a month after the company recalled 6.5 million tires.
Bridgestone/Firestone is planning to name one of three Japanese officers as its No. 2 executive, giving that person the titles of president and chief operating officer, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Reports of Ono's potential departure have circulated since the recall of Firestone's ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires, which are being investigated in connection with 101 deaths in the United States and more than 50 fatalities overseas.
Ono, top executive of the U.S. operations for seven years, was giving a deposition Monday in Nashville as part of consumer lawsuits filed against Firestone and Ford Motor Co.
Gordon Ball of Knoxville and Mary Pat Viles of Fort Myers, Fla., represent consumers seeking class action status for lawsuits claiming Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford, which used the tires as standard equipment on some vehicles, breached their warranties and provided products that were not fit for their intended use.
None of those lawsuits involved injury accidents. However, the information gained from the deposition will be shared with attorneys representing victims and families of people killed or hurt in accidents linked to Firestone tires.
Ball and Viles are trying to convince the courts to expand Bridgestone/Firestone's recall to include 24 other tire models and be overseen by a judge, rather than the tire maker.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a consumer advisory on 1.4 million more Firestone tires considered potentially unsafe, and opened an investigation into the Steeltex model.
A copy of Ono's deposition was provided to the AP by Bridgestone/Firestone.
Ono testified that he told Bridgestone Corp. President Yoichiro Kaizaki in September he would like to retire from the Nashville-based U.S. division "because I will be turning 64 next year and I didn't feel I was in particularly good health either."
Ono said he has stomach problems and high blood sugar, and his retirement request was not related to the recall.
Kaizaki told Ono not to retire immediately, Ono said.
Among his other statements, Ono said the public apologies made by him and other company executives during September's congressional hearings on the recall should not be construed as an admission of corporate liability.
"At present, we have not concluded whether or not there was a defect," Ono said. "However, we have to acknowledge there may have been safety related problems -- there were safety related problems."
Ball suggested Ono was trying to back off of earlier comments Bridgestone/Firestone executives made to Congress.
But Daniel J. Adomitis, an attorney for the embattled tire company, said nothing Ono discussed at a Nashville hotel Monday contradicted his testimony before congressional committees looking into the recall.
"There was really nothing new," Adomitis said.
Last month, Lampe told Congress that tire failure had been responsible in a "very, very small percentage of these deaths."
When asked about Lampe's testimony, Ono said: "I don't know on what basis Mr. Lampe stated there were defects. Right now, what I can say is we have not discovered defects."
Lampe was to be questioned by consumer attorneys Thursday in Nashville.
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