The Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. has begun negotiations with the federal government towards a possible limited recall of at least some of the 13 million Firestone 500 steel-belted radial tires still on the road.
Attorney Clark Clifford confirmed in an interview yesterday that he has engaged in negotiations for the company with Joseph Levin, chief counsel of the National Highwat Traffic Safety Administration, but he would not disclose any details about the discussions.
And Clifford said, NHTSA turned down his request to postpone hearings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of next week. The agency is holding the hearings to solicit comments on its July 8th determination that the Firestone 500 has a "safety-related defect," and that Firestone should recall all 500's still on the road and replace them at the company's cost.
NHTSA said the problems with the 500 have led to thousands of failures, subsequent deaths and injuries.
Sources close to the negotiations say that Clifford is attempting to limit the recall to tires constructed before July, 1976, when Firstone claims it began using a new technology that it believes corrected earlier problems.
Part of Clifford's strategy, sources claim, may be to delay any recall as long as possible. Since any recall NHTSA issues can only involve tires purchases within three years of the date of the recall, each day that passes eliminates hundreds of tires from qualifying for a free exchange for a new tire.
Firestone began phasing out production of the 500 in 1976, but did manufacture some of the tires as late as 1978. It also sold the tire through Montgomery Ward ("The Grappler") and Shell Oil Company ("Super Shell Steel-Belted Radial") under their names.
Meanwhile California Consumer Affairs Department director Richard Spohn issued a statement yesterday indicating that Firestone had turned down his department's request that they begin a mass media "saturation advertising campaign" to tell California residents about Firestone's new liberal policy on accepting any 500's for free inspection and trade-in for newer, reportedly safer, tires.
"They ultimately told us that they're afraid too many tires would be turned in, alleging concern that their inventory might be inadequate to meet demand," Spohn said.
Firestone spokesman Michael Fay said in Washington that "we announced and publicized in July a nationwide program offering a free safety inspection to anyone concerned about their Firestone tires. We do not think it is necessary to run a saturation advertising program to publicize it in California."