The redesigned Ford Explorer, on sale for only three months, is in line for redesigned interior trim panels to make it easier to pull the doors closed.
The reason: In a quest for top safety ratings, the door handle is mounted under the arm rest, near the front of the door. That makes the handle hard to reach, which has auto reviewers and consumers complaining.
The new design will have a cup-shaped gripping area built into the arm rest to make it easier to pull the door closed. But Ford must crash-test the new design, said Raj Nair, SUV and body-on-frame vehicle executive director. That means it won't be ready before 2007.
In the meantime, Ford will launch the 2007 Explorer Sport Trac next spring with the current door panel design. The SUV/pickup variant uses the Explorer's frame and body design from the B-pillar forward.
The issue with the Explorer door panel illustrates the tough balancing act auto engineers face in making vehicles safer without sacrificing convenience.
A key goal for the Explorer redesign was for the SUV to get high marks for front crashes, side crashes and rollovers. The panels are an important part of meeting the side crash goal.
Engineers wanted to remove as much structure as possible and add more padding to the rear half of the driver and front passenger doors, Nair said.
The arm rest was made bigger, and the opener handle, switches and support hardware were moved toward the front of the door. This let engineers add a 4-inch block of foam inside the rear of the door to protect occupants' hips.
Moving hardware away from the rear of the door led Ford to mount the door pull handle underneath the arm rest, Nair said.
But that location forces a person to reach down and under the arm rest to grab the handle and pull the door closed -- an awkward maneuver.
Nair said adding the cup-shaped gripping area to the arm rest will fix that problem and still allow the door to meet Ford's crash-test goals.
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