Say it isn’t so! I sincerely hope that I’m wrong on this one, or at least over-reacting. Ford’s initial Press conference at the 2008 North American International Auto Show left me wondering, “”What about the Explorer?” Ford began the Sunday with Bill Ford, Mark Fields, Country music superstar Toby Keith, and enough fireworks and decibels to put a chill up your spine. We were shown the newly-redesigned F-150, the Verve Concept, and a herd of Mustangs. We saw the Explorer America Concept, or at least I think we did. It came on and off the stage faster than Charles Manson at a parole hearing. The pitch went something like this. “Unit body, 2.0 liter Ecoboost Engine, Adios!” I found this especially disheartening, because the vehicle looked so great. A forward-looking design that keeps real truck cues. Not another tall wagon!
We were offered only a few tid-bits of information on the vehicle that used to define family travel. The vehicle that replaced the stodgy Minivan. The vehicle that was the Country Squire of the 1990s. The vehicle that kept Ford at the top of the list for single model sales for more than a decade. The vehicle that paid a huge chunk of the bills in Dearborn, kept thousands of dealerships profitable and put dinner on tens of thousands of tables in the US. The Explorer redefined family transportation for a decade and supported Ford’s position as the family owned American icon producing vehicles for American families. In some ways, it’s more important the crown prince F-150.
After the show, we discussed Ford’s possible position at the NAIAS review meeting here at AutoPacific. A few theories were thrown out. The only one of real merit is that the F-150 is more important, and deserves the spotlight. Considering the financial situation that Ford is in, this holds water. But why not delay this concept to Chicago, where the vehicle is likely to be built, and give it the attention it deserves?
My fear is that history will repeat itself. We all watched in disbelief as the Taurus died a slow a painful death. A death not caused by the Camry and Accord, but Ford’s loss of focus on the full line. Attention given to F-150 and Explorer was clearly diverted from Taurus. Ford cannot continue to come to the plate swinging for the fence with one or two profitable vehicles carrying the rest of the line. My hope is that Ford’s 2008 NAIAS press conference was not indication the Explorer’s future at Ford.