DEARBORN, MI â Despite the promise of greater refinement, the new-for-â11Explorer will not threaten sales of its cross/utility-vehicle cousins, says Ford Motor Co.âs top North American executive.
Critics have suggested the 7-seat Explorer, which migrates from a body-on-frame architecture to theTaurus sedanâs D-segment car platform, will steal sales from the Ford Edge and Flex. And those critics are wrong, says Mark Fields, president-The Americas.
âWeâve done a lot of research on the customers,â Fields tells Wardâs at a recent media event here. âThe Edge is a CUV with 5 seats, and people are looking for stylish design on that.
âFlex customers want more of a people mover; they want to be able to haul the family around with the right technology,â he adds. âExplorer is for families that have a sense of adventure, they want to have the option of going off-road.â
After months of teasing consumers with partial photos on Facebook, Ford today officially takes the wraps off the new model, claiming it will redefine the utility-vehicle segment.
The SUVâs off-road capability will go a long way in differentiating it from its CUV stable mates, Ford insists. Complementing a driver-activated terrain-response system is a platform that is 3 ins. (7.6 cm) wider and significantly stronger, the auto maker says.
Additionally, the Explorerâs towing capability will approach that of a conventional body-on-frame SUV.
When the Explorer launches later this year, precise timing remains under wraps, it will feature a 3.5L Ti-VCT V-6 engine that produces 290 hp and peak torque of 255 lb.-ft. (346 Nm). Equipped with the V-6, Ford claims a tow rating of 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg).
Sometime later, the auto maker will offer a 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged I-4 delivering a projected 237 hp and peak torque of 250 lb.-ft. (339 Nm).
The I-4 will afford a 2,000-lb. (907-kg) tow rating, while also providing a 30% fuel-economy boost over the current Explorer, Ford says.
âWhen we took a look at sizing, what we wanted to do was make sure we offered fantastic fuel economy and still deliver the performance that was required,â Don Ufford, chief engineer-Ford truck engineering, says of the I-4.
âWhen we decided on the displacement sizing, it was the right size to get good launch when youâre in the naturally aspirated portion of the torque curve. And itâs also the right size combined with the turbocharger sizing to have good road load capability and grade ability. So when you tip in on a grade you have good responsiveness.â
Explorer production moves from Fordâs assembly site in Louisville, KY, now being retooled for an unnamed C-segment vehicle, to the auto makerâs plant in Chicago, home to the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS fullsize sedans.
To accommodate Explorer output, the auto maker plans to add a second shift of about 1,200 new workers at Chicago. The site has been operating at a mere 22.7% of its 290,000-unit capacity, according to Wardâs data.
If Explorer production adds another 50,000-60,000 units to Chicagoâs output, the plantâs capacity utilization would approach 60%.
Ford has yet to reveal volume expectations for the Explorer, the U.S. marketâs best-selling Middle Sport Utility almost every year since its 1990 debut, according to Wardâs data. The Chevrolet Trailblazer took the crown in 2005.
Through June, sales of the current-generation body-on-frame Explorer were tracking 30.9% ahead of like-2009.
The SUVâs best year was 2000, when Ford delivered 445,157 units. Ironically, 2000 also was the Explorerâs must tumultuous year, when it was implicated in nearly 300 rollover fatalities linked to Firestone tire failure.
But Ford research shows the incident largely has been forgotten by consumers, says Ken Czubay, Ford vice president-sales and marketing. âFirestone is not an issue.â
Jim Farley, group vice president of global marketing, says the Explorerâs name recognition, which stands at about 96%, will help drive sales.
âThe good news is, I donât have to do a lot of explaining; everyone knows about Explorer,â he says. âThe issue is how do I myth-bust about what they think Explorer is and what itâs become?â