The 2016 Ford Explorer marks the 25th anniversary of the vehicle line. When it launched as a 1991 model, the Explorer redefined what a sport utility vehicle should be – it was a high volume SUV with 4-doors (Ford wrongly estimated 4-door sales would be 30% of the mix – later, it became 100%). 7,000,000 sales later, Ford is launching a nicely updated mid-cycle product change. When the 2016 Ford Explorer launches, most people won’t be able to tell the difference from the present Explorer. While the vehicle’s sheetmetal ahead of the A-Pillar is all new and the liftgate and taillamps are all new, the differences are subtle to the casual observer. So while the change for 2016 is major, its appearance change is minor.
“Ford Explorer’s win of AutoPacific’s 2009 Ideal Vehicle Award shows that Ford has designed a Premium Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle that is ideal for its buyers. Explorer also won AutoPacific’s 2009 Vehicle Satisfaction Award. The Explorer has been a top competitor in this class for almost twenty years and Ford has become a master in SUV design. Ford clearly understands what these buyers want and have delivered,” said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, Inc. “In a product segment where buyers value ease of use, generous passenger and cargo space in a good-looking vehicle, owners rate the Explorer above all the rest.” Top-scoring Explorer attributes include:
* Exterior styling
* Ride and handling
* Cargo space
Ford Explorer is the vehicle that started it all, way back in 1991. As the first of the modern four-door SUVs, Explorer turned the market around. The 2009 Explorer continues its excellence as a vehicle for all seasons. Owners rate it tops in the Premium Mid-Size Sport Utility category, with a high score in most categories. Rather than class-leading scores all around, the key to this win is having no low score in any area. In addition, the Explorer is segment leader in the following areas:
• Ride and handling
• Safety features
• Controls have quality feel/operation
• Seating capacity and comfort
• Flexible/changeable seating
• Cargo space/capacity
• Ease of loading/unloading cargo
• Overall dealer experience was also best in class
A few short years ago, one of the big automotive buzzwords was the term “segment busters”. This was in the day where the unibody car-based SUV was a radical new concept and manufacturers started realizing that the latest generation of consumers wanted products – both automotive and non-automotive – to speak specifically to their own unique needs. Rather than adapt habits and lifestyles to suit the vehicle, consumers increasingly expected the exact opposite.
The first generation Explorer Sport Trac was introduced for the 2001 model year and was very much a segment buster in its day. It combined SUV and pickup sensibilities in a fun package. Instead of offering a crew cab variant of the Ranger compact pickup (on which the first couple of generations of Explorer were based on), Ford decided that they could make more money by putting an Explorer-based cab and a short bed on an extended-cab Ranger frame and making it a part of the more profitable Explorer family. Thus was born the Explorer Sport Trac.
Explorer America – A Sustainable Showcase
To help explain its vehicle sustainability strategy, Ford has created the Explorer America concept for the 2008 North American International Auto Show. Actually, the Explorer America tips Ford’s hand about the next generation Explorer due in 2010. Shifting from a body-on-frame traditional SUV to a unit body crossover SUV, Ford shows they firmly believe that crossovers are where the SUV market is headed.
The key here is the style and the package Ford is showing. Still a Premium Mid-Size SUV, Explorer America picks up more adventuresome styling than any Explorer before. It has overstated wheels and tires, large wheel openings, a tough and rugged appearance and a lowered roof line. Hopefully, the lowered roofline will be raised by production because spaciousness and headroom are things that SUV-buyers covet.
On the driver side, Explorer America has two conventional sedan-style doors. On the passenger side, Explorer America has a conventional front door and a sliding rear door like a minivan. Sometimes, automakers use center-opening or sliding doors on concept vehicles to allow them to showcase the interior better, so it is not known if the slider would make it to production. Anyway, it is an interesting approach.
Showcase for EcoBoost 4-Cylinder Turbo Powertrain
From Ford’s early January press release….
The Explorer America concept delivers an approximately 20 to 30 percent fuel-economy improvement – depending on engine selection – while providing room for six and their gear, along with moderate towing and off-roading capabilities.
A powertrain lineup includes a 4-cylinder 2-liter engine with EcoBoost technology delivering 275 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque or, as a premium engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 delivering about 340 hp. Depending on engine selection, fuel-efficiency will improve by 20 to 30 percent versus today’s V-6 Explorer.
Migration from current body-on-frame to unibody construction, reducing weight and delivering superior driving dynamics
A fuel-efficient 6-speed transmission with auto shift control, allowing the driver to select and hold a lower gear with just the turn of a dial when conditions warrant it
A weight reduction of 150 pounds for the V-6 version thanks to its downsized – yet superior performing – engine, as well as more lightweight materials, suspension and chassis components
Fuel-saving electric power assisted steering (EPAS) and other engine actions that deliver a fuel savings benefit of about 5 percent. Between 80 to 90 percent of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles will have EPAS by 2012
Aerodynamic and other parasitic improvements that add up to a 5 percent fuel economy gain
The production model of the Explorer changed the landscape when it arrived on the scene in 1990 as a 1991 model, delivering an experience as unique as the owners who would eventually shape the design of the Explorer America concept.
Today’s Explorer leads the mid-size SUV segment in sales. Since its introduction 18 years ago, Explorer has sold more than 6.5 million vehicles.
Believe it or not, one of the most anticipated new vehicles introduced at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit is the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size SUV. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) are watching this introduction very, very closely because it will demonstrate the strength of Hyundai’s research and development process and ability to produce quality products at its new assembly plant in Alabama.
This it the second generation Santa Fe. The first Santa Fe surprised pundits when it turned out to be a darn good vehicle and actually won four of the five AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards during its five years in production. The Santa Fe turned out to be a good value, good quality, highly warranted, if quirkily styled sport utlity vehicle what out-pointed products like the Ford Escape and Toyota Highlander in owner satisfaction.
Hyundai has high expectations for the new Santa Fe and hopes to fill half of its Montgomery, Alabama plant with Santa Fe volume. The other half of the capacity is devoted to the new Sonata sedan. Assuming quality is top-notch and Hyundai can maintain its value proposition and strong warranty coverage, the Santa Fe promises to be a winner.
The Hyundai press release for the Santa Fe is shown below.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) were impressed with the previous Ford Sport Trac and are more impressed with the new 2007 version of Ford’s Sport Utility Truck. The 1st Sport Trac was a funky, hose-it-out, derivative of a two-generations ago Explorer. In its last year in production, the first gen Sport Trac came within a hair’s breadth of winning AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award for the compact pickup category. This is quite an achieve for a last-year vehicle.
The new Sport Trac goes upscale and more sophisticated and adds a V8 to its powertrain offerings. Adopting the more modern Explorer as its basis, Sport Trac gets an independent rear suspension for the first time.Sport Trac gets Ridgeline-like storage bins in the cargo bed. But the key improvements are the V8 and IRS.
Here is Ford’s press release for the 2007 Explorer Sport Trac….
2007 FORD EXPLORER SPORT TRAC AS UNIQUE AS ITS OWNERS
Ford Explorer Sport Trac Adrenalin Concept
Gone are the days when vehicles fit neatly into one of three categories: truck, van, or car. Today, the automotive landscape is much more complicated, with vehicles for every personality or lifestyle. Leading the way in originality and versatility has been the Ford Sport Trac.
The new 2007 Ford Sport Trac follows the same formula of its predecessor. First launched as a 2001 model and based on the best-selling Ford Explorer, the Sport Trac offered the refinement and five-passenger seating of an SUV with the cargo bed and towing capacity of a pickup truck. Its unique blend of capability and personality has attracted a loyal fan base, whose passion for their vehicles rivals that of Mustang enthusiasts.
In fact, nearly 100 Sport Trac fans attended the unveiling of the 2007 Sport Trac at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, some driving from as far as San Francisco and Buffalo. What the owners found was the 2007 Sport Trac kept what they loved about their Tracs, and addressed their three biggest requests: a V-8, more towing capacity, and more refinement.
Underhood, Sport Trac features a standard 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission, rated at 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. The big news with the 2007 model, however, is the addition of a V-8.
“Customers have been asking for a V-8 since day one,” says Bryan Olson, Sport Trac marketing manager. “These customers want the added capability and towing capacity, as well as the power and performance that only a V-8 can deliver.”
This V-8, inspired by the one found thumping under the hood of the Mustang GT, is a 4.6-liter, three-valve V-8 delivering 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 Sport Trac delivers an impressive maximum 6,800 pounds of towing capacity, and 1,390 pounds of payload.
That payload is stored in the 40 inch-long cargo box, made of sheet molded composite (SMC) with a molded-in black inner liner that resists scratches and is dent-proof. Notches in the box for two 2×4 boards across the bed provide tiered storage of materials – including 4×8 sheets of plywood.
Inside the box are three integrated cargo bins recessed into the bed floor, with two six-pack-sized bins in the right and left rear of the box and one large bin that runs the length of the box headboard. The bins are equipped with weather-resistant lids and removable drain plugs for storing wet gear or ice.
An available tubular aluminum cargo cage acts as a cargo divider or can be swung out as a bed extender for extra storage capacity when the tailgate is lowered.
Inside, the hose out Tuflor™ rubber floor covering is offset by Berber-carpeted floor mats, and available two-tone six-way power seats or 10-way heated leather seats give the 2007 model two tiers of interior comfort.
Other cool features available on the 2007 Sport Trac include a heated windshield, which uses micro-wires embedded in the glass to help prevent fogging and speed up de-icing, and a six-disc CD changer with integrated SIRIUS satellite radio and navigation.
Refinement is dramatically improved with the all new frame, which Ford engineers say is 427 percent stiffer than before. For the first time, the Sport Trac features an independent rear suspension, which offers significantly better handling over both smooth and rough surfaces as each wheel reacts independently to bumps in the road. In addition, IRS drastically reduces rear-end skate, which is the lateral movement that occurs when a vehicle with a solid rear axle travels over sharp bumps or washboard/corrugated road surfaces.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.comhttp://www.autopacific.com) pay close attention to the the dynamics in one of the largest and most dynamic product segments in the North American auto market – the Premium Mid-Size SUV market. This VehicleVoice blog (http:/.vehiclevoice.com) delves into the dynamics between Traditional SUVs and Post-Modern SUV entries.
Are Traditional SUVs Based on Trucks on Their Way Out?
Some say traditional SUVs are on their way out, but their implied death is exaggerated at best or at worst will come only after a lengthy illness that has just begun to take root. That the playing field is changing there is no doubt, but traditional SUV entries will be an important part of the mix well into the next decade, despite the amount of chatter that Post Modern SUVs (some refer to them as crossovers) are generating and the speculation that the product configuration will take over the world. Though segmentation is subjective and a constantly moving target, but a close look at the Premium Mid-Size SUV segment as currently defined indicates that it is not quite time to write off traditional SUVs.
Ford Explorer Versus Toyota Highlander: Which is the Way of the Future?
Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.
A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is
Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.
This article appeared in the December 8, 2005 issue of USA Today. While VehicleVoice agrees in general with what Healey and O’Donnell report, we should not lose sight that folks really have vehicles in only a few clearly identifiable classes: Cars (sedans, coupes, sports cars) and Trucks (pickups, SUVs and Minivans). In VehicleVoice Research (http://www.vehiclevoice.com), there is seldom any comment on “crossovers”. A vehicle is either an SUV or its not. Folks will talk about softer SUVs (crossovers) that maneuver better, get better fuel economy. But, too many manufacturers are forgetting that, at a glance, a crossover needs to be at-a-glance an SUV. Heck, you might get a cross between a wagon and a sporty coupe and put it real low to the ground and call it a crossover. Eeeeek!
Popularity of crossovers leaves SUVs in dust
By James R. Healey and Jayne O’Donnell, USA TODAY
Buyers are shifting rapidly from traditional SUVs to more comfortable and more fuel-efficient crossover models.
The Ford Freestyle is the crossover vehicle most traded in for by truck-based Explorer owners. The Ford Freestyle is the crossover vehicle most traded in for by truck-based Explorer owners.
The transition had been inching along for several years but has turned into a stampede.
Crossovers, adaptations of car or minivan underpinnings, outsold traditional, truck-based SUVs the past three months and should do so routinely and permanently beginning next year, according to data and projections from Ford Motor (F). (Photos: Hot new crossover SUVs)
PROS AND CONS
better fuel economy
Can’t tow or haul as much
less ground clearance
lighter-duty four-wheel drive.
able to tow and haul heavy loads
greater ground clearance
heavy-duty four-wheel drive.
poor gas mileage