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TOKYO (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. will replace Firestone tires on about 14,000 vehicles in Japan, expanding a recall it previously announced in the United States and Europe, an official at the company's Japanese subsidiary said Thursday.

Ford Japan Ltd. will soon notify the owners of about 14,000 Ford Explorer vehicles sold here since 1991 that it will replace Firestone Wilderness AT tires for free, said Ikuno Fujii, a spokeswoman for Ford Japan Ltd.

The world's second-largest automaker has already announced that it will exchange Firestone Wilderness AT tires installed on its vehicles in North America and Europe with tires from other makers.

The tires are made by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp. They've been blamed for accidents resulting in about 174 traffic deaths in the United States, but Fujii said there have been no reports of accidents or injuries involving the tires in Japan.

Last month, Ford said it would replace 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles in the United States. That came on top of Bridgestone/Firestone's August 2000 recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.

The accidents mostly involved Ford Explorers, and Ford has repeatedly said the accidents are the result of faulty tires. Firestone, however, has charged that the accidents were caused by a design flaw that makes the Explorer prone to roll over.

Bridgestone/Firestone last month ended its nearly century-long relationship with Ford over the dispute.

On Tuesday, Ford said it was replacing Firestone tires on 23,000 vehicles across Europe in a preventative step, although no problems with the tires were reported there.


On the Net:

Bridgestone Corp.: http://www.bridgestone.co.jp

Ford replacement program: http://fordfirestonewildernessatprogram.ford.com/

Ford: http://www.ford.com

Bridgestone/Firestone: http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com