DETROIT -- Sales of the 2007 Ford Expedition are likely to drop despite a makeover of the big SUV, Ford Motor Co. insiders agree.
The re-engineered and restyled Expedition goes on sale in September at a time when far fewer U.S. buyers want big SUVs. Sales in the segment shrank 19.2 percent from 2004 to 2005 and an additional 16.5 percent in the first half of 2006 from the year-ago period.
Ford isn't sure how low the segment will go.
"Who knows where it's going to land?" says Cisco Codina, Ford Motor's group vice president of North American marketing, sales and service.
"But it will be some volume, and we just want to get our fair share of that."
Instead of more sales, Ford executives seek a bigger piece of the large-SUV pie.
A new extended-length version of the Expedition will compete with the Chevrolet Suburban. That gives Ford a shot at increasing its year-over-year share in the segment, Codina says.
Ford wants the Expedition to avoid the fate of the 2006 Explorer. Ford's mid-sized SUV got a substantial update last year, but hit the market with a thud.
Sales of the Explorer fell 29.3 percent in 2005 from 2004. Sales were down 29.0 percent in the first half of this year compared with the first six months of 2005.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas says the 2007 Expedition won't face the sales obstacles that the 2006 Explorer confronted.
"The Explorer was introduced in the month after (Hurricane) Katrina, when gas prices spiked to $3 a gallon at the end of August and scared the bejesus out of everybody," Pipas told Automotive News. "And it was launched at the beginning of the post-employee-discount (sales) payback period."
Ford couldn't have picked a worse time to introduce an updated SUV and try to increase sales, Pipas says.
Ford executives decline to project sales of the 2007 Expedition.
Ford sold 114,137 Expeditions in the United States last year, down 28.6 percent from the previous year. From January through June 2006, Expedition sales plunged 33.1 percent from the year-ago period, to 41,233 units.
In the late 1990s, the Expedition routinely sold more than 200,000 units a year, contributing huge profits to Ford Motor's bottom line. Expedition sales peaked in 1999 at 233,125.
The restyled Expedition faces tough prospects, says Mike Wall, an industry forecaster with CSM Worldwide Inc. He says General Motors is "trying to suck out as much oxygen as they can" with their own updated large SUVs, which went on sale this year.
A lack of major exterior styling changes may increase the Expedition's challenges. The 2007 version includes a significant carryover of exterior sheet metal.
"The problem is, you have to get people past the exterior and get them to see the interior for them to see the benefit," Wall says.
Ford officials concede that the design changes to the big SUV are not revolutionary. But that was a deliberate choice, says John Viera, the 2007 Expedition's chief engineer.
"We feel that we optimized where we put the money -- the safety piece, the capability piece, the comfort piece," he says.
"That's where we focused our money."
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