The introduction of the 1991 Ford Explorer sparked a revolution in the industry, helping the SUV market transition from a small niche to a major force in the marketplace.
"Before Explorer, sport-utilities were limited to camping and hunting vehicles," says Steve Lyons, group vice president, North American Marketing, Sales, and Service. "The Explorer broadened the appeal and created the SUV as we know it today. It offered the same go-anywhere ability, plus comfortable seating and handling designed for driving on pavement as well as back-country trails. Explorer has continued to be a success because we have continued that tradition of innovation."
Now, the SUV market is undergoing another transition, fragmenting and dividing into traditional and crossover vehicles as an ever-increasing number of SUV nameplates are introduced. Yet, Explorer has remained the best-selling SUV every year since its introduction, totaling almost 5.5 million sales over 15 years.
The 2006 model is well-equipped to maintain its success, even in this changing market. It offers class-exclusive safety technologies, improved capabilities, and first-in-class features such as power-fold third row seats and a six-speed automatic transmission.
These improvements are key to Explorer`s continued leadership in the changing SUV market. In addition, the Explorer is a key component in Ford Motor Company`s strategy to offer customers innovative, class-defining traditional and crossover SUVs.
The changing SUV market: traditional and crossover SUVs accounted for
4.8 million sales in 2004
In 1990, every SUV on the market was a "traditional" SUV. Most shared their ladder-frames and solid axles with truck platforms. All were largely unrefined, with an emphasis on truck-like capability at the expense of creature comfort. As a result, SUVs accounted for a small percentage of total annual sales ? only 929,000 in 1990, or 6.6 percent of the total U.S. automotive market.
The Explorer introduced a new level of refinement, with all the same capability, to the SUV market. Driven by consumers leaving passenger cars for the multi-functional character of the Explorer, the SUV market rapidly expanded. By 2000, SUVs accounted for almost three million sales annually.
Traditional SUV sales have been fairly steady since 2000. However, the introduction of car-based crossover vehicles has continued to fuel the growth of the SUV market. By 2004, total SUV sales have climbed to 4.8 million units, or 27.5 percent of the U.S. automotive market. Through the first half of 2005, traditional SUV sales are down, while crossover sales continue to increase.
"The SUV market is rapidly changing into two increasingly distinct types of vehicles and Ford will deliver the best vehicles for each type of customer," says Lyons. "With the proliferation of new crossover vehicles, the market for traditional SUVs that offer full capability ? including towing and the ability to driver off-road ? is clearly not as large as it used to be. For many customers, crossovers like the Ford Freestyle deliver just what they need and want. But there will also continue to be a strong market for traditional SUVs and the new Explorer steps up the game in delivering more of what those customers want."
2006 Explorer integral to Ford`s strategy offering innovative traditional and crossover SUVs
"The SUV market is fragmenting, offering more options for consumers," says Chris Feuell, SUV group marketing manager. "Ford is leading that market shift, essentially offering something for everyone. In addition to traditional SUVs such as the Ford Expedition and Explorer, we offer the Ford Escape, the best-selling small SUV for three out of the four years it has been on the market; the Escape Hybrid, the industry`s first full hybrid SUV on sale; and the Ford Freestyle, with command seating, all-wheel drive and seating for seven."
The 2006 Explorer advances Ford`s SUV strategy, creating further differentiation between Ford`s traditional and crossover SUV offerings. As such, the new Explorer is more focused on delivering SUV capabilities, including off-roading, towing and payload capacity.
"One of the distinct advantages of a body-on-frame vehicle, such as the Explorer, is its ability to isolate loads and inputs between the frame and the passenger compartment," says Raj Nair, SUV and Body-on-Frame Vehicles executive director. "This isolation is even more noticeable during more strenuous driving activities, such as towing and off-roading."
To deliver the most capable Explorer ever, the 2006 model features an all-new stiffer frame that is 63 percent stiffer than the previous model. The chassis also features all-new suspension components and an upgraded brake system. Paired with the available 292-horsepower V-8 ? the most powerful engine ever offered in Explorer ? delivers 1,520-pound payload capacity and 7,300-pound tow rating.
2006 Explorer defined by class-leading innovations, design inspired by F-150
However, the Explorer doesn`t sacrifice refinement for capability. The 4.6-liter V-8 is paired with the first six-speed automatic transmission in the segment. This wide-ratio transmission enables the engine to operate more efficiently, delivering up to 10 percent increase in fuel economy despite a 22 percent increase in horsepower. In addition, the standard 4.0-liter V-6 delivers the same 210 horsepower as before, while engine and exhaust improvements return a 74 percent decrease in emissions. In fact, V-6 Explorers meet the same federal tailpipe emissions standard as the Escape Hybrid.
The Explorer`s design also shows a new focus on rugged, truck-based heritage and increased refinement. The tougher, bolder design is inspired by the Ford F-150. Yet, Explorer also offers class-leading refinement, safety and innovations.
"We really wanted to return to Explorer`s truck heritage, which gave Explorer its strength and credibility to begin with," says Chelsia Lau, Explorer chief designer. "For example, we have used the F-Series` grilles to communicate the toughness of Ford trucks and to serve as a differentiator among series. Now, we`re applying that same approach to the Explorer. In addition, we took the "tough luxury" theme of F-Series, and applied it to the Explorer."
The result combines bold design, like the four-bar grille of Eddie Bauer models, with fine craftsmanship and upscale features, such as two-tone seating with Preferred Suede inserts. Despite its larger visual presence, the Explorer features class-leading interior quietness, due to comprehensive improvements in noise, vibration, and harshness.
Amenities include an available navigation system with class-exclusive text-to-speech programming that includes spoken upcoming street names, and a class-exclusive power-fold third-row seat.
Explorer leads its class with 10 standard advanced safety technologies
In addition, the 2006 Ford Explorer leads its class with 10 standard advanced safety technologies. Seven of these 10 standard features are new to the mid-size SUV class, including four new adaptive technologies specifically designed for Ford`s stringent internal safety targets. The new Explorer provides the most active and passive safety features in its class.
"Safety is one of the top `why-buys` among SUV buyers," says Feuell. "The 2006 Explorer delivers safety technologies that are not available in any other SUV in its class. One of our biggest communications priorities will be explaining to customers how the complex system of safety features provides adaptive protection. Protection not just tailored to the force of the impact, but protection tailored to fit the occupants` size and position."
Explorer already achieves one of the best impact-protection ratings among mid-sized SUVs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration`s 2005 model-year New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) data. The new 2006 model is expected to improve on that rating. In fact, the new Explorer meets all known federal frontal- and side-impact crash requirements through 2010.
Explorer will be available in four trim levels: XLS, XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited.
The 2006 Explorer will go on sale this fall in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It will be produced at the St. Louis, Mo. and Louisville, Ky. assembly plants.
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