WASHINGTON — Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd., the Chinese manufacturer of 450,000 tires subject to recall in the U.S., said its tires meet or exceed U.S. standards, according to information it gave National Highway Traffic Safety Administration staff.
The company said it told NHTSA at a July 11 meeting that it will provide any information the agency needs to independently confirm the safety and reliability of the tires. After that review, if a recall is appropriate, the company said it "will take all necessary action to ensure a recall is completed successfully and expeditiously."
The tire maker´s action and statement comes a few days before New Jersey importer Foreign Tire Sales Inc. begins a recall campaign. On July 16, the firm will begin running ads in "USA Today" and send out press releases and videos to all national markets, as well as letters to individual consumers, notifying the public of the recall.
The Union, N.J.-based importer reported to NHTSA in June potential defects in the light truck tires. The company said the tires were made without gum strips or with insufficient gum strips between the belts to prevent belt separation.
In a Chinese-language letter on its Web site, Hangzhou Zhongce said it is in a "business dispute" with FTS, and after the importer sued the Chinese company, it contacted NHTSA about alleged quality defects in the tires.
"So we believe this is merely a commercial overhype initiated by FTS for the lawsuit purpose. Meanwhile, we will keep the right to claim compensation for the loss that FTS has brought to us," the company said.
Hangzhou Zhongce said it did not find the defect claimed by FTS. "We are certain about the reliability and quality of our products," the firm said.
A lawsuit is pending in Philadelphia circuit court against Hangzhou, FTS, General Motors Corp. and other plaintiffs regarding an August 2006 rollover crash allegedly caused by a Hangzhou tire that suffered belt and tread separation. Two men died in the accident, and a third suffered permanent brain damage.
FTS subsequently sued Hangzhou in New Jersey federal district court for unspecified damages and a court injunction against importation of Hangzhou tires.
The latest court case was filed June 27, also in the New Jersey court. Jeffrey Killino, the lead plaintiffs´ attorney in the Philadelphia accident case, seeks certification of a class action against Hangzhou, FTS and other importers.
Among other things, the plaintiffs in the pending class seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys´ fees and court costs, and a court order for the immediate removal of potentially harmful tires from the U.S. market.
The issue also has sparked political action in the U.S. Congress.
The Senate Commerce Committee plans a July 18 hearing on federal oversight for imports of Chinese tires and other products. NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason is among those scheduled to testify.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee probably will follow suit in September, according to Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a Rehoboth, Mass.-based vehicle safety consulting group with close ties to plaintiffs´ attorneys.
Kane said he expects the issue of liability insurance coverage for product importers to be prominent at the July 18 hearing. "There´s going to be a big push in Congress toward closing the loophole on importers bringing products to this country without adequate bonding or insurance," he predicted.