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Is car-based Explorer the same rugged SUV?

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Is car-based Explorer the same rugged SUV?

Ford engineer says redesigned vehicle will silence doubters

BY BRENT SNAVELY

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Jim Holland, chief engineer for the redesigned Ford Explorer, which is expected to come to dealerships late this year, has faced naysayers before.

Holland, 49, was chief engineer of the Range Rover when a redesign of that SUV was launched in 2002.

"We got a lot of the same questions that I am getting today," Holland said.

Mainly, those questions center on whether the new Explorer can maintain its ruggedness and towing capacity as it shifts from a body-on-frame truck to a car-based crossover. Ford still plans to market the Explorer as an SUV.

Holland, who began his career studying vehicle architecture while working as a carpenter, has spent 2 1/2 years crafting the new Explorer.

"They can call it whatever they like," said Aaron Bragman, automotive analyst for IHS Global Insight. "It's built on a Taurus platform, so it is actually a crossover."

Can Explorer and Flex coexist?

But analysts say the new Explorer -- which hasn't been shown publicly yet -- might struggle to satisfy Ford's traditional SUV customers and could compete with Ford's existing crossovers, especially the seven-passenger Ford Flex.

"The question is, can they have both the Explorer and the Flex? Flex has already not sold up to its expectations," Bragman said.

Through April, the current Explorer outsold the boxy, polarizing Flex 19,487 to 12,598.Explorer sales increased 41.2%, while Flex sales increased 16.7%.

Ford said the new Explorer will appeal to a different set of consumers, even though it also will be a seven-passenger vehicle with three rows of seats, like the Flex.

Ford also said 70% of current Explorer buyers already pick the version with three rows of seats.

"When you see it, you know it's a Ford, you will know it is an SUV, and you will know it's a very modern interpretation of our Explorer," Holland said.

Range Rover collaboration

Ford has kept the design of the Explorer top-secret even though production is to begin by the end of this year at the company's Chicago Assembly Plant.

For this report, Ford provided the Free Press with an exclusive photo of the new Explorer's hood and headlight and said the hood will look similar to the Range Rover's clamshell hood. There are other parallels, too.

Holland said Land Rover -- which was owned by Ford at the time -- also redesigned Range Rover using a car platform. "We were able to clearly demonstrate that Range Rover ... was as capable, if not more capable than, the outgoing model," Holland said.

Another parallel between the new Explorer and Range Rover will be a terrain management system co-developed by Ford and Land Rover.

The Explorer's terrain management system is a dial on the console with five settings: Normal, mud, sand, snow and hill descent. The Range Rover includes one additional setting for rock-climbing.

Will it live up to its past?

But whether the new Explorer will live up to the iconic SUV of the past and help it bounce back remains to be seen. The Explorer was the best-selling midsize SUV from 1995 to 2004 in the U.S., according to J.D. Power and Associates, with sales peaking at 431,488 in 1998.

But in the 2000s, rollover accidents led to a tire recall and consumer tastes changed to smaller, more fuel-efficient crossover vehicles.

In 2009, Ford sold just 52,190 Explorers in the U.S., according to Autodata.

The Explorer also will face tougher competition from Chrysler's redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is expected to reach dealerships by July, and shrinking sales of midsize SUVs.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100514/BUSINESS01/5140324/1331/Business01&template=fullarticle

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regfootball    250

it all doesn't matter because the new explorer will outsell the old one by a landslide.

Flex+Explorer sales will increase as well. By a lot.

Explorer will claim back market share lost to Lambdas etc.

No one really wants truck frame SUV's anymore......and those are happy with Suburbans etc.

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