Ford Motor Co. loses about 5,700 units of '01 Windstar minivan production and recalls 22,081 vehicles including Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car because of a software glitch in the computer module that controls the passive restraint system (see Ward's Automotive Reports — Sept. 11, '00, p.1). It causes airbags to deploy on their own and seatbelts to tighten suddenly.

The system was successfully introduced on the '00 Taurus/Sable and continues to operate without incident on the '01 mid-size cars. But the unidentified supplier is new to the '01 Ford Windstar and large cars and unfamiliarity with their body architecture resulted in a compatibility problem between the module and Ford's diagnostic systems, says Ford of Canada president Bobbie Gaunt.

The problem was detected at the Oakville, Ont., plant that assembles Windstar. Production was temporarily cut and vehicles voluntarily recalled. Production resumed with the arrival of new modules, allowing delivery of repaired vehicles and freeing up room for new units in the makeshift storage lots around the plant. The carmaker hopes it will have sufficient volume to officially launch the '01 Windstar on schedule Oct. 1.

Repair lots also have been created around plants in St. Thomas, Ont., (Crown Vic/Grand Marquis) and Wixom, MI, (Town Car), but they did not have to cut production.

It will take weeks to complete the repairs and Ford advises consumers not to drive the vehicles until the module is reprogrammed.

General Motors Corp. has airbag problems of its own. It is recalling 290,000 '95 Buick Regals and '95-'96 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme sedans to fix a problem with the igniter in the module of the driver-side airbags. It could cause them to deploy unexpectedly. Because of a shortage of parts to fix the problem, owners are advised to sit back from the steering wheel and stop driving the cars if the airbag light comes on and stays on.