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Ford keeping the Explorer's new look under wraps


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Ford keeping the Explorer's new look under wraps



The most important vehicle Ford hasn't been talking about is the next generation of its once-dominant Ford Explorer SUV.

Ford plans to launch its new Explorer in January -- about the same time as its all-new, highly publicized Focus compact car, a vehicle Ford unveiled last month.

But it has been more than two years since Ford revealed an early concept called Explorer America, and Ford says the design has changed since then, raising questions about what the new model will look like.

Ford didn't show the new Explorer to employees in January, when the company announced it would be built at the Chicago Assembly Plant, and the Dearborn automaker barely talked about it during the Chicago Auto Show last week.

"They just want to keep people concentrating on the Focus and Fiesta" -- two small, fuel-efficient cars -- said Haig Stoddard, automotive analyst for IHS Global Insight.

Sales of the Explorer, and midsize SUVs on the whole, are a shadow of what they were 10 years ago, but Ford is still banking on the Explorer to boost sales. "It's another piece of the puzzle for our company to get back to profitably growing," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas.

Excited about Explorer

Ford hopes its all-new Explorer can repeat history and again redefine how a midsize SUV looks and drives.

Ford says the next-generation Explorer, set to go on sale by year's end or early next year, will still be an SUV -- even though it will be built on a car structure rather than on a rigid truck structure. It also will have a driving performance that matches today's crossover vehicles.

"What we are trying to do with the new Explorer is turn the midsize SUV segment on its head," Fields told the Free Press after Ford announced it will build the Explorer at its Chicago Assembly Plant.

There, Ford will build the Explorer on the same structure as the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans.

Fields said the new Explorer will have enough towing capacity to satisfy traditional SUV buyers -- perhaps 5,000 pounds or more -- and will get gas mileage that is 25% better than the outgoing Explorer, which gets a combined 17 m.p.g., according to the U.S. EPA.



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