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Ford rises above the “Three Letters of Doom” with the 2011 Explorer.

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Ford rises above the “Three Letters of Doom” with the 2011 Explorer.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 7/26, 11:00AM) Detroit. As Ford takes the wraps off the new 2011 Explorer today – with a stellar, multi-city “throwback” reveal combined with a social media offensive – it’s easy to see why they’re excited about it. The new Explorer is lighter, much better looking, safer, quieter, exhaustively equipped, technically sophisticated, dramatically more efficient and with light-years better driving dynamics thrown-in for good measure. In short, there is nothing about the 2011 version of the Explorer that bears any resemblance to the vehicle that came before it. The only thing the new vehicle shares with the old one is the name, which has an incredible 96 percent recognition factor among American consumers, according to Ford.

But saying all of that, it’s a vehicle that almost didn’t see the light of day.

I’ll let you ferret out all of the myriad product details elsewhere but suffice to say, the real story of the 2011 Explorer is the internal wrangling that went on behind the scenes within Ford, and how this excellent new product almost didn’t happen at all.

For most people outside of this business it’s hard to contemplate the lead times involved in producing cars and trucks. For instance the no or no-go decision on the Explorer was still being bandied about internally at Ford more than three years ago. Remember this was the Dark Before the Light at the company, when Alan Mulally was just starting to work his “Plan” and the bureaucratic minions were just finding out what “One Ford” really meant.

(That’s why the “finger-snap” auto experts out there new to this business – everyone from the horde of instant auto pundits on the Internet to the wildly misguided and hysterical Green coalition and, of course, the stunningly uninformed politicos in Washington and California – have trouble understanding how difficult it is to respond to “blue sky” pronouncements or even worse, knee-jerk auto regulations. But I digress.)

In those dark days, when two of the Detroit Three were heading toward oblivion, and Ford was certain to follow, it was not unexpected that some within Ford would be vehemently against the idea of doing a new Explorer. After all, the letters S-U-V had become the bane of Detroit’s existence. Consumers were beginning to abandon the segment in droves as the political rhetoric generated by the virulent anti-car, anti-Detroit “intelligentsia” (and I use that term derisively as if you had to guess) in Washington and California and in the media (only thinly-disguised at that point and led, of course, by their Patron Saint, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times) was reaching a cacophonous crescendo.

By then, Detroit was not only responsible for the decline of Western civilization, but Global Warming, the looming economic collapse and everything evil going in the U.S. at that very moment in time. Friedman went on record that Toyota should become America’s car company because Detroit was criminally negligent, equating the Detroit automakers with terrorists. Any possibility for a rational assessment of the state of the domestic auto industry based on the global economic transformation, the accrued legacy and labor costs that had left the U.S. automakers woefully uncompetitive, the blatant unfair trade practices ongoing on behalf of certain Asian automakers – and with the full cooperation of their governments, by the way – gave way to shrill histrionics and a witch hunt mentality unfettered by rhyme, reason or anything to do with the facts, for that matter.

So it would be easy to see why that within the halls of Ford back then there was much consternation and hand-wringing going on about the all-new Explorer slated for the 2011 model year. I can tell you that the internal discussion went like this:

Why were we doing it when the pitchforks were being raised against anything with the Three Letters of Doom – SUV – attached? How could Ford in all good consciousness – spend all of the time, research and development, and engineering costs necessary for such a program?

But on the other side of the equation there were compelling arguments as well:

How could the company walk away from one of the most recognizable names in the business, despite the fact that it’s an SUV? Why couldn’t we make it better, more efficient, more sophisticated and more responsive to the times in every way? Why can’t we put everything we know into a new vehicle that will knock the socks off the industry again?

Fortunately for Ford the cooler heads prevailed, the ones that realized that the scurrilous campaign against Detroit and everything it stood for was misguided, inaccurate and most important not reflective of the rest of the country. Much to the Detroit “haters” chagrin, real people needed and still need all kinds of different vehicles for a wildly diverse set of needs.

Real working people needed pickup trucks - which puzzled the politicos on both coasts to no end - after all, why couldn’t they rig a Prius with its hatch opened up to do the job? And families and extended families actually like to pile in a vehicle together and go somewhere to explore and experience all that this country has to offer. Even if it was just to visit grandma.

Not everyone was willing to shoulder the logistics and costs of air travel or search high and low for a train station, again, much to the chagrin of our representatives in California and Washington, who, after all, believed that with just a “finger-snap” America could be just like Europe – complete with a vast network of mass transportation and $8.00 per gallon gasoline – if we all just kumbaya’d around the camp fire for a while and wished it to be true.

So when you look at the new Explorer, look beyond the inherent goodness of - by all indications - an exceptional product and take a moment to realize what the vehicle means to Ford and the rest of the country.

The 2011 Explorer is the embodiment of the Ford Motor Company’s new-found conviction and belief in their mission. Led by Alan Mulally - the savviest CEO to hit the automobile business in decades - the Explorer represents a rejuvenated car company bristling with talent and expertise, one willing to take all of the risks necessary for the sake of delivering great product, which is, after all, the very lifeblood of this business, and the reason Ford’s upward trajectory knows no end.

For the rest of the country it means that as long as there are car companies out there willing to be responsive to the consumer – and to the customer’s needs and wants – instead of giving in to the hysterical bleating from the political factions and their heavily-warped agendas that would have us sentenced to become Rickshaw Nation overnight, then there will be vehicles out there that will fit your needs – even if they have the "Three Letters of Doom” attached to them - and we’ll be just fine.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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