Last week, I was flown out to Detroit to join a group of over 75 journalists and bloggers to hear a dog-and-pony embargoed briefing on Ford’s new 2011 Explorer, due to hit the market in Q1 2011. It’s a winter launch for those wanting to dive right in as soon as it is available to test out its improved ability to handle both mud and snow.
Traditionally, car manufacturers have launched new cars at auto shows, but this time around, Ford has chosen to launch their new Explorer, officially announced today, to its Facebook friends in a unique social media initiative. This will subsequently followed by reveal events throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Ford’s VP of Global Marketing Jeff Farley shared his excitement of how they plan to share the new car with their nearly 200K Facebook fans and the importance of getting feedback from fans and skeptics. “You can’t myth busy if you don’t know the myth,” said Farley. I had to laugh when he added, “I love auto shows, but the Ford Explorer deserves more.” They’re planning an online campaign at launch to hit 50 million people through social media – this is an effort to connect with and start a dialogue with customers who have an interest in Ford and want to learn more.
Since I had never been to Dearborn Michigan, the home of Ford and in many ways, a symbol of all things American, I was itching to experience the auto heartland and meet some of the people who had lived and breathed the auto industry for more than a decade.
Mark Fields, the Executive VP and fields President of the Americas, kicked off the official product briefing. Dressed in a beige suit and tie and sparking shiny black shoes, he was gleaming as he geared up for unveiling the details of their new Explorer to a room of press, which they see as the “SUV reinvented.”
He revealed branding stats among American consumers: a whopping 96% had heard of the Ford Explorer brand. We then move into trends. According to their latest, yanks still want SUVs but the number one reason they don’t buy one is fuel economy and efficiency. “It’s the primary reason people are saying NO to SUVs,” says Fields.
The new Explorer, which will seat 7 passengers, offers a 237 horse power engine, a 13% increase in power from the previous model. Its V6 power is expected to deliver more than 20% better fuel economy than the 2010 model, shattering conventional expectations for SUV fuel efficiency. When equipped with the available 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine, Explorer fuel economy is expected to improve by more than 30% and exceed the 2010 Honda Pilot and 2010 Toyota Highlander V6.
In addition to putting a full force effort into improving fuel efficiency, they have focused their attention on better quality, keeping it “green,” safety aspects and incorporating smart technology.
Ford’s Group VP of Global Product Development Derek Kuzak hit the stage to cover each of those core areas, at the time, still without any of us seeing a visual of the new Explorer, still covered by a blanket behind the Ford execs.
Moray Callum, Ford’s Director Designer for the Americas shared the latest in design improvements and then at last, (drum roll please), the moment the auto geeks were waiting for, the blanket lifting. They chose a white vehicle and through years of practice, the polish and shine was just about as perfect as you can get……it glistened, it shone, it sparkled as it spun around on the flat stage with two Ford spokespeople in front of its glory and massive wall banner behind it. (A Ford Explorer sitting in a rugged setting with tall trees surrounding it).
The engineering team spent a significant effort on new features, such as safety, recycled materials used in the car’s interior, uncompromised towing and the terraine management system. This model allows you to go through four “driving” shifts on-the-fly, so within minutes, you can change from sand settings to snow to mud and ruts to normal every day driving.
They are also launching the first inflatable safety belts for the second row seat, a dramatic improvement in overall passenger safety. And, the materials used in the carpets are made of 25% recycled material.
Another cool feature is something they’re calling Hill Descent Control, which manages hill descent for you so you don’t have to manage the break and accelerator pedal manually. Also included is beefed up smart technology – their combined Sync and MyFord Touch, which I covered in more detail last week here.
Touting over 10,000 voice commands and a new ‘flattened command structure,’ you can get the same desired result from using different words and phrases to get what you want, i.e., play song or play track, find nearest shoe store or find shoe store, find nearest restaurant or I’m Hungry.
The team enhanced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) control for the new Explorer using an advanced technology called NoiseVision.
A ball with hundreds of tiny cameras and microphones, NoiseVision allows engineers to pinpoint and address potential noise issues earlier in the development process. Explorer is expected to be superior to in-segment competitors and rival premium SUVs in quietness and NVH control.
On safety, they have added enhancements there as well. Apparently, there are 50,000 curve related crashes each year related to speeding. As yet another safety feature addition, the new Explorer also has added curve control to its 2011 model.
Explorer’s EPAS system allows for variable rates of assistance based on speed, turn-in and direction. In addition to optimized steering feel, tight on-centering and appropriate resistance, EPAS provides a fuel economy benefit in comparison to traditional hydraulic power assist systems. EPAS also enables a competitive turning radius for optimum maneuverability in parking situations, combined with increased assistance at low speeds for parking ease. EPAS allows for the addition of Curve Control, a new feature that senses when a driver enters a turn too quickly and applies brake pressure to stabilize the vehicle.
Additionally, their inflatable rear belts spread impact forces across more than five times the area than conventional seat belts, reducing pressure on the chest while helping to control head and neck motion.
Ford’s Jim Holland addressed aerodynamics. The team logged over two million CPU hours on aerodynamics alone, which has resulted in a 12% improvement over the 2010 Explorer.
The new 2011 Explorer is being assembled at Ford’s Chicago manufacturing facility. Production begins late this year, and Explorer will be available in dealerships this coming winter.