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Ford Halts 4x4 SUV and PickUp Shipments Because of Transfer Case Problem

DETROIT Reuters reported that Ford Motor Co. said on Thursday a defective part in four-wheel drive systems had forced it to temporarily halt shipment to dealers of many of its best-selling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

The announcement was another embarrassment for the world's second-largest automaker, which saw its productivity and profits erode last year amid the Firestone tire crisis and a rash of high-profile quality problems.

Ford spokesman Ed Lewis said the latest problem involved a defect in the electric motor connected to the transfer case on four-wheel-drive versions of at least three high-profit SUVs and two pickup trucks. The transfer case directs engine power to the front and rear axles.

``They are mostly 2002 vehicles,'' Lewis said, adding that eight North American assembly plants had stopped shipping the vehicles to dealers until the defective part was fixed.

He said the problem appeared to have been detected before any vehicles left the plants, making it likely that Ford would avoid having to recall any vehicles already in customer hands.

Lewis could not say how many vehicles were affected or when the problem was first detected. He said affected vehicles rolling off the assembly lines now are being stockpiled for repair; some of the plants involved produce thousands of vehicles a month.

Four-wheel-drive SUVs and pickup trucks account for the majority of sales and production on most models.

Lewis identified the four-wheel-drive SUVs that have been stockpiled temporarily at the plants as the Ford Explorer, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The trucks affected were the Ranger and most versions of the F-Series pickup, long celebrated by Ford as the world's best-selling vehicles.

Production at the eight assembly plants had not been affected, according to Lewis, and neither has production of the all-new versions of the Expedition and Navigator due to roll-out in the coming months from Ford's Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, just outside Detroit.

Ford's hourly employees were expected to complete most work on the faulty electric motor part by the end of this month, Lewis said, adding that vehicles affected by the part problem were being shipped as soon as it was fixed.

It was not immediately clear what impact the part problem would have on Ford's first-quarter financial results. But U.S. automakers book profits from car and trucks sales when vehicles are shipped from their plants, before they are actually leased or sold.