WASHINGTON — The recall of 255,000 Chinese light truck tires caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to think seriously about the rules surrounding safety recalls, according to NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason.
"This was a real fire drill," Nason said during the question-and-answer section of a speech before the Washington Automotive Press Association at the National Press Club. "Before this, we hadn´t had people come in and say, ´We need to recall these tires, but we can´t pay for it.´ "
Also, the need to obtain information quickly from the Chinese manufacturer of the tires led directly to the memorandum of understanding NHTSA signed earlier this month with the Chinese government. It called on both China and the U.S. to work together to prevent the distribution of unsafe or defective parts, she said.
Union, N.J.-based Foreign Tire Sales Inc. contacted NHTSA in June, informing the agency it believed some 450,000 LT tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. and imported to the U.S. by FTS lacked the gum strips they needed for proper belt adhesion and should be recalled.
At the same time, however, FTS said it had only a fraction of the estimated $50 million to conduct the recall. NHTSA wrote back, telling FTS that as the manufacturer of record it had a legal responsibility to conduct the recall, under pain of criminal sanctions. FTS replied that it never intended to shirk its duty to recall the tires.
Eventually, information from Hangzhou Zhongce about the design and construction of the tires helped NHTSA and FTS to narrow the recall to a more manageable 255,000, Nason said. But the difficulty in getting the information from Hangzhou Zhongce led directly to the agreement with China, she said.
"We don´t want another situation where we write a letter, translate it into Chinese, send it to the manufacturer and wait a month for a reply," she said. "We want to reach out to the Chinese government to have them participate in the information-gathering process."
Nason said she expected both the House and Senate to have general oversight hearings in October on Chinese product safety and to call NHTSA to testify.
The main portion of Nason´s speech consisted of her detailing the agency´s accomplishments so far in 2007.
Mentioning the "Exploding Frogs" public service announcement on tire safety NHTSA unveiled during the summer, she said, "It´s hard for the government to be funny."