2011 Ford ExplorerEnlarge Photo
2011 Ford Flex TitaniumEnlarge Photo
2011 Ford EdgeEnlarge Photo
Ford, however, is hoping to trump the compact competition in one important aspect: fuel economy. Ford is targeting a 30-percent improvement in fuel economy, overall, with the EcoBoost four-cylinder model.
Rebecca Lindland, senior auto analyst at IHS Automotive, agrees that with the rapid expansion of the compact crossover segment this decade—with vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox, and Ford's Escape—we won't see the same level of sales again for mid-size utility vehicles.
"Nobody's kidding themselves," said Lindland. "We're not going to see a half a million Explorer sales again."
The smaller Escape, which arguably took some sales away from the Explorer as its sales dwindled, is due for a complete redesign, but that's more than a year away. In the meantime, the Explorer, Edge, Flex, and the Taurus X (the Flex's predecessor) have struggled to reach half of those peak Explorer numbers. All four models added together hit about 227,000 sales in 2008, and just 186,000 sales in 2009, according to Automotive News.
Lindland said that for a better understanding of Ford's product strategy with utility vehicles, "All you have to do is take a look at Toyota," she explained, of having a product in each niche, with many of them becoming sales successes.
A step up in size from the Edge, the Explorer will allow Ford to reach upward in the market and likely prove to be a strong rival for GM's full-size crossovers, Lindland suggests, in that it will offer the three-row space, comfort, and utility of those models, but with real off-road ability.
But to the naysayers who can't make any sense of why the Explorer is even around today, next to two other good utility vehicles, Lindland says that it's simply a matter off looking at attributes—including what sounds like a better four-wheel-drive system than the old, trucky Explorer ever had. "To have the better mpg and three rows of seating—and to have that level of off-road and snow ability—then there are some reasons for the vehicle to exist."