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Ford, Firestone Dealers Trade Barbs

September 15, 2000

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Independent car and tire dealers here have begun attacking each other through advertisements in the country’s largest newspapers over who is to blame as the fallout over the recall of Bridgestone/Firestone tires mounted on Ford Motor Co. Explorers continues.

``Rollovers of the mentioned rustic vehicle with tires of other brands have already been registered on a national level, so, is it the tire that makes the vehicle roll over?″ asks The Venezuelan Bridgestone/Firestone Dealer Network in an add taken out Wednesday in the El Universal paper.

Ford dealers promptly shot back.

``What has Firestone in Venezuelan done? Nothing. Firestone blamed customers and attributed the defects to poor repairs, poor maintenance, road conditions in Venezuela and Ford. It also resisted participating in the (tire) substitution program that Ford is carrying out now,″ said a National Association of Ford Dealers ad taken out Thursday in El Universal.

Ford Venezuela supports the dealer’s advertisement campaign.

``Our dealers are our partners. We understand the concern that they have over the allegations that appeared in the (Firestone dealer’s) advertisements. We believe the allegations that the Ford dealers make in their advertisements are in line with the truth,″ Ford Venezuela spokesman Ricardo Tinoco said.

A Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman in Venezuela said the tire maker ``is grateful for the public support″ shown by its dealers through the advertisements.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Congress will begin public hearings next week to determine whether Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone should be held responsible for at least 46 fatal road accidents that allegedly occurred in that country linked to faulty tires mounted on Ford Explorers.

Legislator Ibrahim Velasquez said a congressional committee will summon the presidents of the Venezuelan branches of Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone next week to testify.

The committee will also summon the president of Venezuela’s consumer protection agency, which last month released a report accusing both the tire maker and car company of withholding information from consumers about alleged defects in Bridgestone/Firestone’s Wilderness tires.

``We want to get to the bottom of this situation. I am absolutely convinced that there is a shared responsibility between both companies,″ Velasquez told reporters.

Velasquez said he expects the committee to wrap up the investigation within three weeks.

Venezuela’s attorney general is conducting a separate investigation into possible criminal negligence by Ford and Firestone.

Bridgestone/Firestone initiated a recall of 62,000 tires in Venezuela earlier this month. The company recalled 6.5 million tires in the United States in August. U.S. regulators are investigating at least 88 deaths that may be related to the tires.

Tinoco said Ford will cooperate with the Congressional investigation.

A Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman said the tire maker did not yet have a response to the congressional investigation.

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