Thursday, August 24, 2000

Tires from Japan help fill demand

The Associated Press

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. began airlifting the first of thousands of tires to the United States from its plants in Japan to alleviate a nationwide shortage caused by a recall of 6.5 million tires.

        About 800 tires were packed aboard four flights that left Narita Airport, outside Tokyo, Wednesday for Los Angeles, said an official at Kintetsu Express, the company that handled the shipment.

        Masatoshi Ono, Bridge- stone/Firestone chief executive, said the company has asked other tire manufacturers to increase their supplies of the affected tire sizes.

        The company also will continue shipments from Japan “nearly ev ery day as long as necessary,” he said.

        Earlier this month, Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone recalled P235/75R15 ATX and ATX II tires as well as 15-inch Wilderness AT tires made at a Decatur, Ill., plant.

        The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 62 deaths and more than 100 injuries possibly linked to the tires. In many cases, the tread separated from the tire, causing a blowout and a rollover accident.

        Retired employees of the company's Decatur plant were expected to testify Wednesday that inspectors were pressed to examine 100 tires an hour — too many to do an adequate job.

        By early afternoon, four former employees were giving depositions as lawyers began taking the testimony in a Florida personal-injury case against the company.

        The plaintiffs' lawyers were not immediately available to comment Wednesday.

        A Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman said the four were disgruntled former employees who left the company at or about the time of a bitter strike in 1995.

        “The comments of these former employees should be evaluated with a critical eye given that they were carefully selected out of the thousands of current and former employees of the Decatur plant by personal-injury lawyers who are suing Bridgestone-Firestone,” the spokesman said.


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