Ford to Build New Explorer in Chicago


Crain’s Chicago Business is reporting that Ford will build its next-generation Explorer SUV at the Chicago assembly plant where it builds the Lincoln MKS and upcoming Ford Taurus sedans. Previously, Ford also built the now-discontinued Taurus X/Ford Freestyle crossover at the same plant.

This news likely means Ford will indeed build the next Explorer on the same car platform on which the MKS, Taurus and Taurus X are based. The platform has been highly regarded by the press for its stability and versatility. If the Explorer does indeed share this platform, it would likely have better fuel efficiency than the previous Explorer, to help meet new emissions standards going into effect for the 2011 year.

At the 2008 Detroit auto show, Ford unveiled an Explorer concept, seen above, that was praised by the press. The new Explorer would likely be a 2011 model, and production would probably not begin until late 2009 or early 2010.

Given the fact that Explorer production will essentially take the place of Taurus X production at Ford’s Chicago plant — sharing space with multiple car models — this move could mean a reduction in the number of Explorers Ford produces.

The Explorer saw sales drop to 133,562 in 2008 from 228,104 in 2007, but in that same time frame Ford sold just 23,112 (2008) and 42,110 (2007) Taurus X crossovers. Ford has only sold 15,748 Explorers through February of this year. Using that very minimal sales figure, sales for 2009 would total 94,488, but that’s still well above the number of Taurus X crossovers sold.

We’re not taking into account the plant’s production of the discontinued Mercury Sable because the new Lincoln MKS that is built there takes its spot on the assembly line. That all boils down to the conclusion that Ford doesn’t look like it’s expecting to build nearly as many Explorers in the future as it did in the boom time of SUVs.

Ford still has five SUVs and crossovers in its lineup, including the Flex, Edge, Escape, Expedition and Explorer. Ford has only four cars in its lineup: the Focus, Fusion, Taurus and Mustang. A fifth, the Fiesta, is expected to go on sale in 2010.

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Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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