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Ford may keep 3 plants idled to free more tires

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DEARBORN, Mich. - Ford Motor Co. plans to decide this weekend whether to extend the closing of three plants to make replacement tires available for Bridgestone Corp.'s recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires.

The world's second-largest automaker has idled about 6,000 workers for three weeks in plants in Edison, N.J.; St. Paul, Minn.; and St. Louis. The closings freed up about 100,000 tires for replacing the recalled models.

"We will continue to look at things through the weekend and make the call when we get closer to it," Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. said yesterday.

Ford initially said it would shut the plants for two weeks starting Aug. 28, then extended the closings for another week. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker had said it would probably make up lost production of compact trucks by year-end, and that it was unsure if it could make up output of its highly profitable Explorer sport utility vehicle.

U.S. regulators are investigating the Firestone tires, which have been linked to at least 88 deaths. The 15-inch tires are used mainly on Ford's Explorer.

Ford's chairman, who has allowed Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser to be point man on the tire recall, said his conference call with reporters didn't signal that he is taking a more active role on the tire issue.

The automaker's board spent much of its meeting yesterday discussing the tire recall and is satisfied with how Nasser and other company executives have responded, Ford said.

He said his only regret is that the automaker didn't ask the right questions of Firestone when both companies' internal research indicated the possibility of a tire problem.

The tire recall is expected to reduce Ford's third-quarter earnings, analysts have said. Several parts suppliers, including Visteon Corp., Lear Corp., Tower Automotive Inc., Dura Automotive Systems Inc., BorgWarner Inc. and Superior Industries International Inc., have said the Ford production cuts will reduce their earnings.

Ford is the great-grandson of both Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Co., and Harvey Firestone, founder of the company that is now part of Bridgestone. Ford didn't attend an August celebration marking the tire company's 100th anniversary.

"It hurts to see a family name and a family heritage tarnished so badly," Ford said.

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