As the 2011 Ford Explorer gets ready to arrive in dealership showrooms early next year, official production of the iconic SUV commenced this week at its new home at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant. The previous Explorer was built in Louisville, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri, but Ford invested $400 million in the Chicago plant, which also builds the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS, to produce the new unibody 2011 Explorer. Ford says that by adding the new Explorer, it has brought 1,200 new jobs to the area to work at the assembly and stamping plants.
Being wider, longer and heavier than the Taurus or MKS, the equipment inside the plant had to be upgraded, and the plant’s workers (new and existing) were given additional training to ensure proper build quality. Ford also updated the plant’s “rough road” track that will be used to put the rugged Explorer through more rigorous testing to work out as many squeaks and rattles as possible. In the end, Ford says that the changes made to the Chicago Assembly Plant were a complete renovation to prepare for one of the company’s most iconic nameplates.
“Ford is investing in American manufacturing, ensuring that the most important new products in the company’s lineup are built in the U.S. by UAW workers,” said Jim Tetreault, vice president of North America Manufacturing. “We are thrilled to bring 2011 Ford Explorer production to Chicago Assembly Plant along with the jobs and investment it provides to the region. We look forward to finding more opportunities for competitively growing our business and providing customers with capable, fuel-efficient, stylish, high-quality products.”[jump]
When the all-new Explorer finally goes on sale, it will be available in three trim levels (base, XLT and Limited) with prices starting at $28,995. Stepping up to the Explorer XLT, the starting MSRP climbs to $31,190 leaving the well-equipped Explorer Limited as the top-of-the-line model with a price of $37,190. All trim levels will come standard with front wheel drive and the 3.5-liter V-6, while four-wheel drive will be a $2,000 option across the board. Another popular option should be Ford’s new 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-four which delivers more power and better fuel economy, but pricing and availability have not been released. Official EPA fuel economy ratings have not been announced yet either. The XLT and Limited models add Ford’s SelectShift transmission, while the base model uses the standard six-speed automatic.
With the addition of this all-new, seven-passenger Explorer, it is still unclear how it will survive in the same line-up with the Ford Flex, or, more importantly, how the Flex will survive beside this more rugged and versatile SUV. Despite switching over from a truck-like, body-on-frame design to a unibody design based off the Ford Taurus, Ford says that the 2011 Explorer will still be a capable off-road vehicle thanks to the Terrain Management System. This system replaces a conventional transfer case (with gears like 2WD, 4WD Hi and 4WD Lo) with an easy-to-use dial that can be shifted on the fly for use in different terrain conditions – these modes are Normal, Mud, Sand and Snow. The new Explorer will also feature innovative technologies such as Curve Control and the inflatable second-row seat belts.