DANIELS, WV – The Ford Expedition has been lagging behind the competition in the fullsize SUV segment, but the refreshed ’15 model is poised to grow sales and regain market share, says the vehicle’s marketing manager.

The segment “clearly has declined from its heyday 10 years ago and there are a lot of reasons for that, but our data suggests the people that are left need the size and capability and are more accepting of high fuel prices,” Brian Rathsburg, Expedition marketing manager, tells WardsAuto during a media event here.

“As a result, it’s smaller, but it’s stabilized at about 2% (of the U.S. auto industry) and it will stay that way,” he says.

Ford Expedition U.S. sales last year were up 0.76% vs. like-2012 to 38,350, good for a 14.7% share of the Large SUV segment, according to WardsAuto data.

Through June, deliveries were up 24.5% to 22,099, giving Expedition a 16.3% slice of the segment. In comparison, the segment-leading Chevrolet Tahoe posted a 12.1% sales gain through June, good for a commanding 33.9% share.

“They’ve built momentum with Tahoe,” Rathsburg says. “But we think we can compete. We expect to improve market share with the new model.”

Rathsburg says market research indicates the Expedition nameplate has an 80% brand recognition rate among consumers surveyed.

“Our strategy will be much more skewed toward loyalty and bringing our own owners back than conquesting,” he says. “We have more than 2 million Expedition owners on the road. If we can attract a small portion of those guys we’ll be fine.”

Of changes made for the ’15 model year, the most significant is the addition of a 3.5L direct-injected twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 engine producing 365 hp and 420 lb.-ft. (569 Nm) of torque that is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The EcoBoost mill will be the only engine available, replacing the aging 5.4L V-8 in the current model.

Rathsburg says the success of the 3.5L EcoBoost engine in the F-150, where it is the top-ranking engine choice, gave the product-planning team confidence it would appeal to fullsize SUV customers.

“We were aware of potential concern moving down from a V-8 to a V-6, but the combination of performance improvement and a roughly 15% fuel-economy improvement is a great proposition for the customer,” he says. “We studied having a single powertrain lineup and we’re comfortable with it.”

The ’15 Expedition will be available for the first time in a Platinum trim level, which will slot above the previous top-of-the-line King Ranch edition.

The Platinum series comes with a number of interior upgrades, including a choice between red-wine-colored Brunello leather seats with French-seamed stitching or Ebony leather seats with gray accents.

Exterior changes include a new front fascia with LED fog lamps, optional 22-in. wheels, a redesigned rear hatch and chrome-tipped exhaust.

The new SUV is available with two wheelbases: a standard 119-in. (302-cm) version and an extended 131-in. (332-cm) model, which features three rows of seating and a 130.8 cu.-ft. (12.1-cu.-m) of cargo space.

Rathsburg says the majority of Expedition customers order high trim levels, and he expects the Platinum series to be a popular choice.

“The pricing opportunity is good, because the people that are left can afford it and our mix is one of the richest in our entire lineup,” he says. “Seventy percent of our retail mix is high-series, Limited and above. That’s a pretty good proposition for us and the dealers.”

The Expedition is targeted at consumers with more disposable income than in other segments, but still represents a value compared to competitors that should allow it to better compete in the marketplace, Rathsburg says.

The ’15 Expedition will start around $41,000, while the ’15 Tahoe comes in at $44,895. Both vehicles, however, can easily surpass $60,000 when highly optioned.

“When we line up apples-to-apples, we’ll be priced below (Tahoe),” Rathsburg says. “It’s a little tricky with Platinum because it’s an all-new series and stands a little above the high-end Tahoe.”

Additionally, the Expedition, like other big SUVs, enjoys a large export market, particularly to the Middle East, where gasoline prices are low.

“Roughly 20% (of Expedition production) goes to the Middle East,” Rathsburg says. “Of all the other Ford vehicles, I think it has one of the highest (export rates).”

bpope@wardsauto.com