Bridgestone Corp. President Yoichiro Kaizaki said Monday that the tire maker will fully support Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., its troubled U.S. subsidiary, in efforts to rebuild its reputation.

Bridgestone Corp. President Yoichiro Kaizaki speaks at a press conference Monday.

Kaizaki denied that Firestone tires, which are believed to be linked to at least 88 highway deaths in the United States, are defective.

Firestone and Ford Motor Co. are investigating the cause of the accidents.

Firestone, based in Nashville, Tenn., recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATXII, and Wilderness tires last month. The tires have been linked to many traffic accidents, mostly involving Ford’s Explorer sport utility vehicles, which come equipped with the tires.

Masatoshi Ono, chairman of the subsidiary and vice president of Bridgestone, testified over the accidents Sept. 6 at a joint hearing of two subcommissions of the U.S. Congress.

Indicating Ono did not adequately explain Firestone’s position on the accidents, Kaizaki said the company found the tires in question were as good as other Firestone tires in quality.

“It’s difficult to specify the causes of the accidents, but Firestone recalled the tires to ensure the safety of drivers,” he said. “But I wonder why most of the accidents happened to Explorer models with the tires?”

Kaizaki denied that Firestone intentionally failed to disclose similar accidents involving Explorers in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to the U.S. government, saying that the reporting of accidents in foreign countries is not obligatory.

Kaizaki said Ford is responsible for the accidents in Saudi Arabia because the carmaker failed to select appropriate tires for the vehicles.

In June, Ford and Firestone conducted investigations in the Middle East country and concluded that the accidents were caused not by tire defects, but by such problems as high-speed driving in high temperatures, excessive loads and inferior repairs, according to Bridgestone.

Ford began replacing the tires on Sept. 1.

In Venezuela, Firestone’s subsidiary is replacing the tires, despite Firestone’s insistence that traffic accidents are being caused by driving and environmental conditions similar to those in Saudi Arabia, Kaizaki said.

The Venezuelan government recommended that Firestone and Ford both undertake repairs because they are jointly responsible for the accidents.

Kaizaki admitted that the incidents have deeply hurt Firestone’s image.

“We will do our utmost to regain consumers’ confidence in Firestone tires,” he said, adding Bridgestone would continue to maintain good relations with Ford.

Firestone Chairman Ono will attend a hearing by the two commissions on Sept. 12 to give further testimony on the accidents. Ford CEO Jacques Nasser has said that the Firestone tires in question have defects.

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