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(May 21, 2001) -- Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., Nashville, Tenn., today announced it has ended its 100-year relationship with Ford Motor Co.

The split comes almost a year after the two companies exchanged blame over the safety of Firestone tires. The strained relationship publicly erupted last August after the tire maker voluntarly recalled of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires. Dozens of crashes and fatal accidents had involved Ford's popular Explorer sport utility vehicles, which were outfitted with Firestone tires.

John Lampe, Firestone's chairman-CEO, informed Ford CEO Jacques Nasser of his company's decision in a letter dated May 21. A copy of Mr. Lampe's letter is on Bridgestone's Web site.

"Our analysis suggests that there are significant safety issues with a substantial segment of Ford Explorers," Mr. Lampe wrote to Mr. Nasser. "We have made your staff aware of our concerns. They have steadfastly refused to acknowledge those issues. ... We believe you are attempting to divert scrutiny of your vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires."

Ford recently launched its redesigned 2002-model Explorer. But sales of the SUV dipped in March and April compared with year ago, and Automotive News reports this week that May sales will also be off from a year ago. Buyers can chose from several tire brands for the '02 Explorer.

A Ford spokesman did not return a call by press time. -- Jean Halliday

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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