Ford's willingness to bend convention likely resonates

I drove through the semi-darkness of Ford's World Headquarters campus just before 6 in the morning last Friday. I noticed several unplanted pine trees stacked along Ford's service road. I figured it was re-planting time at Ford.

I didn't think about it again until Monday, when I stood on the west lawn at Ford's World Headquarters waiting for the reveal of the 2011 Explorer. There, I stared at a man-made 30-foot pile of dirt dotted with about a dozen freshly-planted pine trees. It was a simulated mini-mountain..

What followed was the reveal of the 2011 Explorer, and the birth of a freshly-minted launch strategy that could be repeated again.

Ford targeted an online audience rather than rely on the traditional auto show unveiling.

Several dealers told me of their initial skepticism when Ford explained its unconventional plan for the vehicle launch. It seemed risky, they said.

But on Monday Ford made it onto national morning TV, had nearly 1,000 media and dealers at the Dearborn , Mich., reveal and held eight other reveals around the country. After watching the media blitz, one dealer told me: "I think everybody's going to know about the new Explorer."

Ford's Explorer launch strategy might be a lucky one-off, or it might be proof that the automaker is willing to re-plant ideas and build mountains.