Ford of Canada began its holiday vacation early by idling its minivan plant in Oakville, Ontario, and its car plant in St. Thomas, Ontario, last week.

Spokesman Jim Hartford said Ford closed St. Thomas - which builds the Ford Crown Victoria and the Mercury Grand Marquis - to reduce inventory of the slow-selling cars. It was the fifth down week for the plant this year.

Oakville was closed for two reasons. Demand is weak for the base Windstar minivan built there (see story, Page 1). Yet, demand for high-end versions is so strong that limited parts supply, notably seats and cast aluminum wheels, prevents a radical switch of the mix.

'The problem is not (the suppliers') ability to meet the planned levels,' Hartford said. 'It's the fact that our plans were thrown for a loop by higher demand.'

A spokesman for supplier Hayes Wheel International Inc. of Livonia, Mich., confirmed that the cast aluminum wheels were being built at capacity.

Windstar production began at Oakville early in 1994. The plant worked overtime for a while during the summer, Hartford said, but since then has been working regular time, producing 75 vehicles per hour on two shifts.

In other production news last week:

Manufacturers wrapped up the year's output. They built an estimated 15,709,628 cars and light trucks in North America this year - up 10.3 percent from 1993 total.

Light-truck output in the United States, Canada and Mexico was up 16.7 percent, while estimated car production was up 5.7 percent. The truck build reached 6,997,718, almost 1 million units more than last year.

After five years of production, Chrysler reached 1 million in total output of the Plymouth Acclaim and Dodge Spirit at its Newark, Del., assembly plant. Newark will discontinue production of those cars in January.

Ford's St. Louis assembly plant started building the Explorer sport-utility on the same line as the Aerostar minivan on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

All plants are closed this week. Production is scheduled to resume Jan. 3.

Special Correspondent Rodd Monts contributed to this report.

You can reach Jeremy Sinek at jeremy.sinek@sympatico.ca

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