Ford Motor Co. will shut down its Oakville, Ont., Canada, assembly plant the week of May 3, a spokeswoman tells Ward’s, allowing the company to slash minivan production by 5,000 units.

Ford Freestar

The shutdown affects 1,000 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans per day over a 5-day period and comes as Ford’s minivan sales are down 22% through the first quarter from like-2003.

Sales continue to struggle despite a Ford minivan makeover last fall and the addition of the Mercury minivan off the same platform.

Oakville’s latest downtime comes following down weeks already implemented at the plant earlier this year.

Ford officials hint that higher incentives or price slashing may be the next step in solving the minivan backlog. A Detroit-area Ford dealer says the company initiated a “lease pull-ahead” program the week of April 12 in an attempt to spur sales.

Ford points to weak U.S. minivan market in part for its Freestar/Monterey ills, even though industry-wide deliveries in the small-van segment increased modestly during the first quarter vs. year-ago.

As part of a previously announced round of layoffs, Ford will be handing pink slips to 650 hourly employees in Windsor, Ont., just as Oakville workers return to work May 10. The auto maker says it will announce at that time the number of workers affected by shift reductions planned for Essex and Windsor engine, casting and aluminum plants in Windsor.

Slow minivan sales are said to be one reason Ford is planning to cut the engine plant shifts.