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RICK KRANZ

Why the Ford Explorer is on a roll

Ford spent years and millions of dollars to overhaul and transform the Explorer into a car-based SUV. Photo credit: FORD
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

Will Americans accept a front-wheel-drive Ford Explorer?

The answer is a resounding yes!

This year's Explorer sales are on a roll. Credit the Explorer's reinvention from truck to crossover for the sales turnaround. Ford calls the Explorer an SUV. I call it a crossover with SUV characteristics.

Sales are so good that Explorer likely will have its best year since 2007, when Ford sold 137,817 units. Through the first six months this year, the automaker has tallied 65,823 sales. Last year a mere 60,687 Explorers were sold for the entire year.

If fact, six-month sales likely would have been higher. The redesigned Explorer went on sale in December and Ford was still ramping up production at the beginning of the year. Today, dealers say they can't keep the vehicles in stock.

Why are sales hot?

Ford abandoned the traditional SUV formula: body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel drive and V-8 power. Fuel economy, ride, handling and aerodynamics were emphasized. Off-road capability wasn't lost in its reinvention.

A powerful, fuel-efficient six-cylinder engine is under the hood. A lighter weight, fwd, unibody platform was adopted -- a platform shared with the Ford Taurus and Flex.

Finally, the exterior styling has the presence of a luxury brand. It doesn't hurt, journalists and analysts say, that there's a similarity to the Ranger Rover Evoque.

All in all, it's a winning combination.

Gone are the days when Ford could sell 400,000-plus Explorers, such as 2000's record year, 445,157.

But annual sales in the neighborhood of 140,000 to 160,000 are good numbers in this economic environment.

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