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NHTSA Grants Request for Hercules Tire Probe

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April 13, 2015—At the request of Michael Cowen of The Cowen Law Group, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has initiated a probe into why a defective Chinese-made tire marketed under different brand names was recalled by one importer.

On March 10, the agency opened Equipment Query 15-001 to investigate Cowen's allegation that defective common green tires manufactured by Shandong Yongsheng Rubber Co. Ltd. were recalled by ITG Voma in October, but not Crown Tire. Both imported tires of the same design into the U.S., where they were distributed by American Tire Distributors, and sold under different brand names. ATD sold the unrecalled tires through its subsidiary, Hercules Tires Rubber and Tire Company.

Cowen represents Krystal Cantu, 25, who suffered a permanent and disabling injury in an Aug. 2, 2013 crash allegedly caused by a catastrophic tread separation. Cantu was a front-seat, belted passenger in a 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, when the left-rear tire—a Capitol Precision Trac II—failed as the vehicle traveled southbound on Interstate 37 in Atascosa County, Texas. The driver lost control when the vehicle skidded. Ms. Cantu's right arm was crushed in the subsequent rollover, resulting in an above-the-elbow amputation.

The August 2013 crash, in part, led to a decision by ITG Voma to recall Capitol Precision Trac II tires manufactured between December 2008 and May 2010 for tires lacking a nylon cap ply, which made the tires less robust and prone to tread separations. The October 20 recall covered 94,890 tires in seven sizes for passenger cars and light trucks.

On April 2, 2014, Cantu filed a lawsuit against ATD, Voma and the manufacturer of the tire, the Shandong Yongsheng Rubber Co. Ltd. During the discovery phase of the case, a manufacturer's representative revealed that the Capitol Precision Trac II shared a common green tire designation with another tire branded as the Hercules Radial A/T in eight different sizes. (NHTSA defines a common green tire as "tires that are produced to the same internal specifications but that have, or may have different external characteristics and may be sold under different tire line names.")  A vice-president of ATD also testified that Hercules is a subsidiary of ATD.

NHTSA's March information request, addressed to Hercules as the importer, manufacturer, or entity that "otherwise introduced for sale in the United States," asks the tire importer to explain to what extent Hercules tires have the same specifications as the tires ITG Voma recalled, and "why Hercules has not yet made a defect decision and/or decided to conduct a recall of those tires." The agency's letter also asks the importer to explain why it did not include these tires in an earlier recall, 13T002.  

In February 2013, Hercules recalled seven 10-ply Load Range E tires in the All Trac A/T tire line sold for commercial use on light-duty trucks. These tires were also manufactured by the Shandong Yongsheng Rubber Co., but they were not the same size or load range, as the Capitol Precision Trac. Hercules said in its defect report to NHTSA that the tires could experience in-service belt and tread separations. In its chronology outlining its discovery of the defect, Hercules said in September 2012, it was sued over a defect in a tire manufactured by the Chinese company, and that those tires had a higher than usual adjustment rate.

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