Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. is preparing its defense in anticipation of a National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. (NHTSA) initial defect decision, as the company refuses to recall tires the agency considers unsafe. The disclosure of NHTSA's decision, the product of a year-long investigation of tread separations involving Firestone tires, is a step toward a forced recall. But before that occurs, if ever, expect a lively court battle preceded by the requisite public hearings, the company says.

John Lampe, chairman, chief executive and president of Bridgestone/Firestone, believes NHTSA withheld data from Bridgestone/Firestone and says its own data shows the tires to be safe. He adds that the company would take any tire off the road it believed to be dangerous, but doesn't believe the Wilderness AT tires are unsafe. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) confirms that NHTSA asked the company to recall an undisclosed number of Wilderness AT tires, although reports place the total as high as 7 million.