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2011 Ford Explorer: New Niche Approach Fits The Times

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1999 Ford Explorer

1999 Ford Explorer

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In some respects, the Ford Explorer nameplate is one lost in a particular time, when reality shows were fresh and new, Brittany Spears was just not that innocent, and gasoline prices were reliably under two dollars a gallon. Ten years ago, Ford [NYSE:F] sold a dizzying 450,000 Explorer SUVs, and for a few years, the Explorer was the family wagon of suburban, middle-class America.

But due to a combination of influences—the much-publicized Ford-Firestone tire recall, a migration toward crossover utility vehicles, and simply the passing wave of fashion—Ford wasn't able to hold on to many Explorer owners for a repeat sale and the numbers plummeted.

Last year's sales? A measly 52,000.

The Dearborn automaker clearly couldn't just walk away from such a successful nameplate. But fortunately, they recognized that few people want to go all retro like it's 1999 quite yet.

With the new 2011 Ford Explorer introduced today, Ford has taken a step in a new direction with what, arguably, used to be its flagship vehicle in the U.S.  This time a modern, passenger-friendly three-row design, combining some of the best attributes of newer crossover designs, Ford's industry-leading connectivity features, and some of the ruggedness of a traditional SUV—including a Range Rover-like terrain system—the automaker hopes to appeal to a practical crowd that's looking for something a little different this time.

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