UPDATE: While our source below claimed a specific highway mileage number, according to other sources it is unlikely that in this application any turbo four-cylinder engine would reach highway mileage over 30 mpg.
ORIGINAL POST: Ford announced today that it will build its next-generation Explorer at its Chicago Assembly Plant. That came as little surprise; there have been reports of this move for some time. What’s surprising is the Explorer — based on the Explorer America concept shown above — won’t be unveiled at next month’s Chicago Auto Show — a seemingly logical place, given it’s a hometown car — or, for that matter, April’s New York auto show. Rather, Ford will unveil the car this summer, Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant manager Jan Allman said.
The next Explorer will be built on a car-based unibody platform and have significantly improved gas mileage — “at least 25 percent” better than the outgoing Explorer’s — rated at 14/20 mpg city/highway in six-cylinder form, said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas. Ford will hire or transfer 1,200 additional workers to help assemble the Explorer, effectively doubling the employees at the Chicago facility. The cars currently built there — the Taurus and Lincoln MKS — combined for more than 60,000 sales in 2009 to the current Explorer’s 52,190, and Ford clearly expects headier days for its once-iconic SUV.
Ford has been retooling the plant — part of a $180 million investment in both the Chicago Assembly Plant and Ford’s Chicago Heights, Ill., stamping plant — for some time to accommodate the new Explorer, which goes on sale the fourth quarter of this year. An assembly worker standing courtside at this morning’s press conference inside the assembly plant said a few prototypes were currently at the plant. Naturally, they were out of sight from journalists, but he gave us a few details. Because of the sensitivity of the information we’re not revealing his name.
Ford spokesman Jay Ward wouldn’t confirm or deny most of the details, except to reiterate that the Explorer will move to a unibody platform and offer significantly better gas mileage than before.
- The new Explorer will share its platform with the Taurus and MKS, but it will offer a turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that will get “over 30 mpg” on the highway, our source said. Other sources later told us that in this application reaching such a number is unlikely.
- Ford will also offer the “big V-6” from the Taurus and MKS, he said, with six-speed automatic transmissions across the board. At the 2008 Detroit auto show, Ford said a future turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder would produce 275 horsepower. That suggests the optional V-6 would be Ford’s 3.7-liter engine — likely tuned to make 300-plus horsepower, as it does in the 2011 Mustang.
- The current Explorer’s V-8 engine and 7,115-pound maximum towing capacity are a thing of the past: “It’s not going to be able to tow a motor home,” the source said, but towing capacity would be in the neighborhood of 3,500-5,000 pounds. There will be no V-8 offered.
- He characterized the new Explorer’s cabin as radically changed, on par with the transformation the Taurus’ interior underwent when it was redesigned for 2010. As in a number of Ford products, the Explorer will have recycled seat materials. It will also offer a third row.
- Exterior styling looks like a “bigger version of the Edge,” he said, with sporty features like a rear spoiler.
- High-tech features will include the latest Sync and MyFord Touch systems — albeit without the 2011 Lincoln MKX’s slide-bar touch controls, the source said — and a large central display screen.