FORD SHUT DOWN SIX PLANTS the week of Sept. 18 after at least one supplier couldn't deliver a key power-steering-systems component used in the Mustang, the Contour, the Crown Victoria, and in Ranger pickups. All together, the problem delayed production on a total of 20,600 vehicles. Ford says it can make up for the shutdown by ratcheting up production during the fourth quarter. That hardly seems necessary: Sluggish sales have bloated inventories on the affected models to 33% above normal.

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