Usually when you hear about some hot model being caught uncovered by the paparazzi, the results are distinctly NSFW. And I suppose it's the same situation with recent spy shots of the next-gen Ford Explorer, only this time the images are more about the "Next Sure Ford Winner" than "Not Safe For Work."
Sure, some Blue Oval diehards might have qualms about the new Explorer effectively becoming a crossover, instead of a "real" body-on-frame SUV, but I'd just refer them to the sales charts. When you look at those numbers, it should be obvious by now that most buyers make their purchase decisions based on a far different set of factors than do enthusiasts.
A perfect example that pops into my head is the Dodge Charger. Although reviving the nameplate on a sedan instead of a coupe seemed like blasphemy at the time, and perhaps did keep some fanboys from buying one, any sales lost for that reason were more than balanced out by purchases from people who just didn't care about what Dodge was doing back in the first muscle-car era.
But getting back to the topic at hand, the new images of the Ford Explorer floating around the Internet, sourced by auto spies at KGP Photography, show the 2012 Ford Explorer completely uncovered, save for its rear. The photos show a bit of the new Ford Taurus in the Explorer's door panels, a forward-slanting C pillar that mimics that of the Chevrolet Equinox and a grille that takes its cues from the wild Ford F-150 Raptor.
When it's all put together, the result effectively splits the difference between the upright Ford Flex and the more sculpted Ford Edge. Which makes perfect sense when you remember that that's where the Explorer will fit in terms of size, too. In fact, once the new Explorer hits the road, Ford will have perhaps the strongest crossover lineup in the industry, with an impressive entry in four different segments.
Things start off with the Ford Escape, which, at 174.4 inches long, it's a bit over an inch longer than the Hyundai Tucson, but well shorter than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. The Escape is getting a bit long in the tooth, but bolstered by the halo of its hybrid model, it was the top-selling crossover in the industry in February.
Then there's the Ford Edge and it's distinctive wide-body exterior. The Edge continues to gain ground in the marketplace, with sales up 66.7 percent in February, and it will get a nice facelift for the 2011 model year, along with a turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Size-wise, it's nearly a foot longer than the Escape, or roughly the length of the new Kia Sorento.
In theory, the redesigned Explorer would come next. The current vehicle, built on a platform derived from the previous-generation F-150, is 193.4 inches long. That's a noticeable extension over the Edge, and it's likely the new one will have similar dimensions. It's also likely to get an EcoBoost engine as well. Now, the Ford would still end up significantly smaller than something like a Chevrolet Traverse, but it would match up well against the size of a Honda Pilot.
And the Ford Flex, at approximately 202 inches in length, would be able to handle the Traverse and its ilk.
Further, if you want to throw vehicles like the Honda Element, Nissan Cube or Kia Soul into the mix, remember that FoMoCo plans to build some 10 different vehicles of the platform underpinning its new Ford Focus. I'd say the chance that one of those will have crossover cues is excellent.
Just think, that would give the Ford division proper a lineup that included five separate crossover vehicles at a time when most other companies field three.
On the other hand, this will leave Ford with exactly zero body-on-frame SUVs, as the Ford Expedition has almost certainly reached the end of its road. And it's conceivable that this might cause problems of its own.
While no one is expecting their sales to do much growing, there's no doubt a market remains for SUVs. And actually, sales of the Chevrolet Suburban are up 11.3 percent on the year; last month, the Bow-tie division sold just over 5,000 units combined of the Suburban and the body-on-frame Chevrolet Tahoe, which uses the same platform. For comparison's sake, Volkswagen's combined February sales totals for the VW Golf and its hi-po variant, the VW GTI, came to only 2,087 units.
Of course, on the other other hand, Ford will still be pumping out a couple hundred thousand F-150s this year, and it would be a shame'”and a bit of a surprise'”if the pickup's platform doesn't get used in another Blue Oval product in the near future.