An Explorer for the 21st century: Unibody concept signals life for an old favorite
February 12, 2008
At the peak of the sport/utility boom, Ford sold nearly a half million Explorers a year and ran three factory shifts to build them. Today, the Explorer struggles to sell a third of that number. With Ford going whole hog into crossovers, you'd think it was time to put the ol' Explorer out of its misery. You might be wrong: The Explorer America, a product of North American Strategic Design chief Freeman Thomas's studio, signals a next-gen Explorer for the early 21st century. While this concept is still a three-row SUV with off-road pretensions, it "demonstrates" a fuel-efficient powertrain lineup consisting of a 2.0-liter, 275-horsepower EcoBoost four-cylinder (EcoBoost is Ford's soon-to-be-ubiquitous direct gas-injection turbocharged engine lineup) and a 340-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Ford boasts a 150-pound weight savings from switching to a unibody chassis and smaller engines, which would make the next-gen Explorer weigh about as much favoriteas the two-row, unibody Edge crossover.
Explorer America has Alan Mulally written all over it. Remember, he brought back the Taurus and Sable names for the Ford Five Hundred/Freestyle, and Mercury Montego because he felt the company had given up name recognition and brand equity. On the other hand, a showroom floor soon to be crowded with Escape, Edge, Taurus X, and Flex probably doesn't need one more unibody sport/utility with crossover pretensions. Ford could be making the mistake of believing that gas prices alone killed off the truck-based midsize SUV. As with the SUV, customers will likely some day grow tired of crossovers and move on to something else.