But his engineer, an industry veteran, was suspicious that the tires weren't being made properly. And
after the May, 2006, accident in New Mexico, Foreign Tire started asking pointed questions of its Chinese
supplier. Eiber wanted to know if Hangzhou Zhongce was using a 0.6-millimeter gum strip—it prevents a
tire's steel belts from separating from the rubber—in every unit. Kuskin says the company told Foreign
Tire that the tires were fine. But when Eiber took apart the tires from the New Mexico ambulance
company, he found no gum strips. Foreign Tire pressed Hangzhou Zhongce about the missing strips, but
says its executives responded that the tires were not a problem.
It was time for a face-to-face meeting. Kuskin, Eiber, and the FTS's attorney flew to Hangzhou in
September, 2006. Over three days of meetings, Kuskin says, they talked about problems with the tires,
the possibility of a recall, and asked for documented test results that would prove the tires were safe.
Then Kuskin says he pressed the Chinese to take responsibility for the recall and replace the defective
tires. They listened, he says, but were noncommital.
The trip did unearth one revelation, Kuskin says. Hangzhou Zhongce told him that its chief engineer had
decided to stop using the gum strips, which the company has since confirmed. Apparently the man didn't
understand the significance of the technology, Kuskin says. "There is one engineer responsible for this
whole mess," he adds. "That's the guy I am absolutely furious with."
Over the next few months, Foreign Tire says it sent six e-mails to Hangzhou Zhongce asking for
information on the tires and help with a recall. On May 30, Kuskin wrote: "Problems do not go away
because they are ignored. We notified you of two quite severe problems. I have heard nothing or very
little on these subjects." Hangzhou Zhongce, says Kuskin, never directly responded to his questions. Nor,
he says, would it say which tires lacked gum strips so FTS could recall them.
FTS decided to do more testing. It asked a tire distributor in Maine in early January of this year to find a
few Hangzhou Zhongce-produced tires that were made in 2005. It took the Maine firm six weeks to find
the tires and ship them. Kuskin sent the tires to Texas for another endurance test. After 20,000 miles, the
tires failed. Kuskin got the test results on May 10.
A few days earlier, Foreign Tire was sued over a fatal wreck that had occurred in August, 2006. A van
using FTS tires crashed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Two people were killed and another has serious
brain damage. "It wasn't a good day for me," says Kuskin. On June 11, Foreign Tire alerted NHTSA about