Ford Explorer America

Ford's Explorer is an icon and for 15 years was the best-selling SUV in North America. Now, in the era of crossovers and higher gas prices, the Explorer needs to reinvent itself.

We caught up with designer Freeman Thomas and the new Explorer America concept crossover from Ford on a recent trip to Detroit. "Think of this modern vehicle as a 'smarter utility' that visually demonstrates how we're making vehicles more fuel efficient, lighter, and more aerodynamic--while still providing plenty of space and capability," says Thomas. The grille, while bold and trucklike, seems to be out of sync (pun intended) with current Ford thinking as well as with the 2009 Ford F-150. Additionally, in spite of its practicality, the passenger-side sliding rear door doesn't seem likely, either. Much of the popularity of the Explorer has been due to its "anti-minivan" configuration. What we would expect is a much lighter and smaller Explorer; in fact, Ford has targeted an average of 500 pounds of weight reduction in the coming decade as part of its plan to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy and CO2 targets. Beyond weight reduction, the Explorer and almost all Ford vehicles will be powered by a new generation of highly fuel-efficient and CO2-friendly gasoline turbocharged I-4 and V-6 direct-injection engines mated to six-speed transmissions. In the case of the next-gen Explorer, we expect the elimination of the currently popular V-8 option, replaced by a 4.0-liter V-6 with more horsepower. As to what kind of underpinnings the next Explorer will have, we've been told by insiders that it'll go to a car-based unibody platform.

When pressed on this point, Freeman Thomas responded, "With the Explorer America concept, we're showing how that migration might work and how we could strike the balance of functionality and more fuel efficiency, while providing traditional midsize SUV customers with the space and functionality they need and want."--Richard Truesdell

Videos

2008 Detroit: 2009 Ford F-150 Design Video