DETROIT — With customers refusing to accept Firestone tires, Ford Motor Co. said Thursday that other brands will be made available for upcoming models of its Explorer sport utility vehicle.
Ford has lined up Michelin as a supplier and is in talks with Goodyear, Ford spokeswoman Della DiPietro said. The moves put more distance between Ford's flagship product and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which had been the sole supplier of Explorer tires.
The images of both companies have been battered by a recall of 6.5 million tires, most of them installed as standard equipment on Explorers and linked to at least 101 deaths and more than 400 injuries.
Some Ford dealers are reporting that buyers are unwilling to accept new Explorers with Firestone tires.
Bridgestone/Firestone said it will still supply tires when the 2002 Explorer goes on sale next year, but DiPietro said Michelins also will be available when the SUV hits dealerships.
"We are not deciding. Neither is Firestone. The customer is deciding," she said.
She said the automaker decided to use Michelin on the 2002 Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer before the Aug. 9 recall.
Dealers and customers who place orders will be able to specify the type of tires, but it's not clear how the choice will be handled for vehicles sitting on dealer lots. DiPietro declined to speculate on how many tires each company will provide.
"That will be a marketplace decision," she said.
While automakers often offer customers a choice of tire sizes for a vehicle, it's rare for them to offer a choice of tire brands in the same size. DiPietro said the automaker would consider making similar options available on other vehicles over the next three years.
Bridgestone/Firestone has said that problems with its Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires are largely confined to quality-control issues at its Decatur, Ill., plant.
But documents from a lawsuit in Georgia showed that between 1990 and 1995, Firestone customers complained about tread separations in tires made at the company's Wilson, N.C., factory more often than in tires made at other Firestone plants. The documents include an engineer's analysis.
Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said the analysis does not indicate problems with the Wilson plant.
"We can't speculate as to why they're showing up in Wilson. It could be any number of things. It's like a needle in a haystack," she said.
Tread separations, she said, are "not the cause of a problem. It's the result of something else: improper repair, under-inflation, road hazards, or perhaps a tire that has just exceeded its lifetime."