The Sierra Club would love to throw stones - they'd better be big - at Ford Motor Co.'s new titanic sport/utility vehicle as another example of American conspicuous consumption.

But in a way, the No. 2 automaker can't be blamed for exploiting a market that has treated it so well in recent years. From small to large, every SUV segment is saturated, and new foreign players are crowding the playing field even more.

Ford probably sees only one alternative for real growth: Make 'em bigger. Create demand for a vehicle so large that foreign-based automakers wouldn't dare try to replicate it.

The answer is Excursion, a vehicle in a class by itself, with seating for up to nine people. It's for people who find Expeditions too small, people who do a lot of golf outings, people who haul horses. Heck, the entire Kentucky Derby field could travel in it, with horses in tow.

The 2000 Excursion goes on sale this fall and is larger in every primary dimension than its chief rival, Chevrolet Suburban, which gets a facelift later this year for MY '00.

The fuel-guzzling SUV should average between 10 and 18 mpg (13 to 23L/100 km), with a 44 gal. (67L) fuel tank to limit trips to the pump. Engine choices include the 5.4L Triton SOHC V-8 as the base powerplant; optional are the 6.8L Triton SOHC V-10 and the 7.3L Power Stroke diesel. Ford hopes to sell 50,000 to 60,000 Excursions annually.