Ford Explorer sales sunk during the past several years. Ford touched 450,000 Explorer sales in 2000 and was one of the market’s best-sellers, but the numbers plummeted from there, to barely more than 50,000 sales last year.
Now, early data from Edmunds.com indicates Ford has a shot at once again establishing the Explorer as a major player. Consumer consideration on Edmunds’ car-shopping Web site for the reconstituted SUV is hitting across several segments and going against a wide variety of competitors.
Ford marketers have a tough assignment in successfully altering the Explorer – which almost single-handedly established the “family SUV” template in the mid-1990s – from its well-established and trend-setting image of a rough-and-tumble SUV to that of a more contemporary and environmentally-friendly crossover.
But it seems potential buyers may be along for the ride, forgetting the original Explorer’s off-road slant, accepting their lifestyles and likely usage probably are more realistically aligned with the new, 2011 Explorer, with its passenger-car platform, better economy and reduced emphasis on brawny stuff.
In November, for instance, the vehicle most cross-shopped — that is vehicle that Ford Explorer shoppers also considered — against the 7-passenger 2011 Explorer was Toyota Motor Corp.’s Highlander crossover, according to data from Edmunds.com. The Highlander always has been more of a minivan-alternative than an SUV wannabe.
Ford’s own Edge and Escape crossovers (which seat only five) were the vehicles second and ninth most cross-shopped against the new-generation Explorer (reviewed this week by Edmunds’Inside Line), but in another promising development for the company, the two were the only Fords in the top 10 vehicles most cross-shopped against the Explorer in November.
Meanwhile, a high proportion of those considering competitor Chrysler Group LLC’s new Jeep Grand Cherokee at Edmunds.com cross-shopped the Grand Cherokee against the 2011 Explorer, a vehicle that only now is reaching showrooms. A significant and consistent 12 percent of those considering the Grand Cherokee have cross-shopped the new-generation Explorer in the past three months, making the revitalized Grand Cherokee the third most cross-shopped vehicle against the Explorer.
The Explorer also is being cross-shopped against some fairly-upscale iron, perhaps to some degree because of its standard 7-passenger seating capability: Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Acura MDX and General Motors Co.’s Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia also are among the top 10 vehicles most cross-shopped against the Explorer.
Potential buyers seem to be saying the new-age 2011 Explorer – with no V8 power and a reduced towing capacity – still is enough of an “SUV” for their lifestyles. Edmunds.com data on reverse cross-shopping — shoppers who were looking at other vehicles and also considered the Explorer — indicate fewer of Ford’s traditional truck-based models are being considered by Explorer intenders as they instead cross-shop more competitor models that might be considered more SUV than crossover.
That set includes the Grand Cherokee (cross-shopped by 10 percent of Explorer intenders) and the Dodge Durango and Ford Expedition, both reverse cross-shopped by 14 percent of Explorer shoppers. The reverse cross-shopping numbers are up significantly from a year ago, when just 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively, of those considering the Explorer were cross-shopping Durango and Expedition.
Body-on-frame SUVs such as Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner also now are significantly higher on the Explorer cross-shopping list than they were a year ago.
Ford also surely is hoping to improve on its ability to get current Explorer owners to trade for a new Explorer. Edmunds.com data indicate that the number of those trading in an Explorer for another Explorer has plunged from 19.1 percent in 2005 to just 7.4 percent last year and 8.5 percent so far in 2010.