DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has too many Ford Explorer SUVs on its hands as it gets ready for the launch of an updated model.
Explorer sales are down 25.2 percent this year. The automaker wants to avoid a glut of old models when the re-engineered 2006 model goes on sale in September.
Ford increased rebates on the SUVs to $5,000 this month to reduce inventories and combat employee-discount pricing by General Motors.
"I told the dealers the No. 1 priority is selling down the '05 Explorer," Ford Division President Darryl Hazel said.
More production downtime is planned leading up to the traditional summer shutdown at the plants producing the Explorer and its sister vehicle, the Mercury Mountaineer.
As of June 1, Ford had 78,300 Explorers, or a 96-day supply, in stock. The automaker wants to trim that to around 45,000 units by July 31, said George Pipas, Ford's sales analysis and reporting manager.
"Then I would say we have a good chance of having a more stable production schedule running at St. Louis and Louisville," Pipas said. "Downtime will be less onerous than in the first half of the year."
Those two Explorer plants have been shut down for a combined six weeks this year to reduce inventories. The Louisville plant will have one more down week before its two-week summer shutdown starts next month, Pipas said.
The St. Louis plant was reduced to one shift at the end of 2004. It will have three additional down weeks before its summer shutdown starts at the beginning of August, he said.
Both plants will emerge from the annual shutdowns producing the 2006 model.
The 2006 Explorer will have minor exterior styling revisions, an upgraded interior, a six-speed automatic transmission and an updated 4.6-liter V-8 engine. A new ad campaign will begin in the fall.
Explorer sales have been trending down since 1999. Sales of the SUV, which debuted in 1991, peaked at 507,091 that year; sales totaled 339,333 in 2004, down 9.1 percent from 2003.
"When it comes to the new Explorer, we're optimistic about how that product will be received," Pipas said. "But we don't have any illusions that we're going back to the days of selling 400,000."
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