updated 4/28/2006 11:33:22 AM ET 2006-04-28T15:33:22

Ford Motor Co. has stopped production at seven plants, idling about 15,000 workers, after a problem was discovered with a part for engine transmissions, the company said Friday.

The problem was discovered in a testing of a clutch mechanism in a four-speed, rear-wheel-drive automatic transmission, and the company sent night shift workers home three hours early on Thursday, spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari said.

Day shift and afternoon workers were told to stay home Friday, and it was unclear when production would resume, Gattari said.

Affected Ford vehicles include F-150 pickups, Expeditions, E-Series vans and buses, and the Lincoln Town Car, Gattari said. Gattari said Ford believes no customers have bought the affected vehicles.

"We have no indication that trucks in the hands of customers are affected. At this point we believe we've contained the issue internally," Gattari said.

Gattari said problem was with a component of the clutch mechanism that makes it shift smoothly between first and second gears. She would not identify the supplier, but said the company was working with Ford to fix the problem.

"As a result, we made a decision, the right decision for the customer, to stop production at the affected assembly plants," Gattari said.

JPMorgan auto analyst Himanshu Patel estimated the company produces more than 4,300 vehicles per day at the affected plants, and the shutdown could cost the automaker $34.4 million (euro27.44 million) per day before taxes.

Gattari would not comment on those figures, but said all production will be made up at a later date.

"This is not lost production by any means," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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