Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is recalling 92,000 tires. Hangzhou Zhongce has been ordered to replace 450,000 tires. Two recalls, similar tires, similar problem. Yet the recalls couldn't be more different.
Cooper's action concerns American-made light truck radials, built at the firm's headquarters plant in Findlay, Ohio, during a three-year period that ended in March 2005. The issue is belt separations.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a year ago reported an elevated number of consumer complaints about the tires and began a preliminary investigation. In December it upgraded that to an engineering evaluation.
Cooper claims its own analysis hasn't found any design or manufacturing defects in the tires, although in a notice to consumers it does mention the possibility of property damage resulting from belt separation. In any event, the company is recalling and will replace the tires.
The early warning system of the TREAD Act proved itself in this case. Cooper will suffer a financial loss, but its rapid and bold action will help it avoid a damaged reputation, and might discourage ambulance-chasing plaintiffs attorneys from seeking a big payday.
The recall of tires made by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. is nothing like Cooper's and is very muddled. After a couple of weeks of controversy, more questions than answers have arisen from the incident.
Unlike the Cooper recall, this one was sparked by the importer of the private-brand tires, Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, N.J. The company, facing a lawsuit over an accident involving Hangzhou Zhongce tires, went to NHTSA, claiming the tires were made without or with insufficient gum strips between the belts to prevent belt separation.
FTS was prepared to launch a massive recall on July 16, and charged Hangzhou Zhongce with failing to respond to inquiries.
And the questions arise: Was Hangzhou Zhongce stonewalling? Or did it just take time for a company on the other side of the world to respond, which it has, point by point. Is, as the tire maker claims, FTS essentially using Hangzhou Zhongce as a scapegoat in a lawsuit? Or is this another example of a Chinese manufacturer cutting corners in producing goods for export?
The recall has been delayed. Its resolution very likely rests on what the Chinese tire maker said needs to happen-an independent, NHTSA-sponsored study of the tires, rather than an investigation by the two opposing companies. Until then, reserve judgment.