SAN DIEGO -- Ford Motor Co. will emphasize fuel economy, off-road and towing capability and a smoother ride when it launches TV and print advertising for the redesigned 2011 Explorer next month.
The message: a different build, but the same capability.
The Explorer has abandoned the traditional SUV formula: rugged body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel drive and V-8 power. The redesigned Explorer has none of those features.
But Ford will tell buyers that the all-wheel-drive Explorer, powered by a V-6, will perform like an SUV -- a message that might raise red flags with off-road enthusiasts. Skeptics will point out that the Explorer now shares a front-drive platform with the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedan and MKT crossover. And Explorers equipped with the EcoBoost four-cylinder engine will be offered on front-drive versions.
The real point, says Ford, is that there's a new way to get the job done.
"The inspiration behind the messaging is reinvention," Amy Marentic, Ford's group marketing manager for North America cars and utility vehicles, said at an event here. "You get all the capability of an SUV with the fuel economy and refinement you never expect."
Production began Dec. 1, and Ford started shipping Explorers to dealers Dec. 6.
Ford has begun an aggressive viral and grass-roots campaign for the Explorer. A Web campaign on Facebook, dubbed Explorer Live, answers questions about the vehicle using short videos. Some of those videos feature singer Bret Michaels and rapper Snoop Dogg.
Explorer Live, an offshoot of Ford's use of Facebook to launch the vehicle this summer, has been up for about a month and has received 250,000 views, Marentic said.
Ford also will contact its nearly 4 million current Explorer owners with letters and e-mails touting the redesigned Explorer and will offer a loyalty incentive to existing owners -- $750 for a lease and $1,500 for a purchase -- that will be in addition to other incentives. Ford will wait until next spring to publicize the incentive offer because the automaker wants to have enough inventory.
The loyalty incentive is available now for customers who ask for it, Ford said.
The automaker also is taking Explorers to events around the country, targeting 49 cities in 25 states. The goal is to have 1 million people see the vehicle.
Ford is also giving an Explorer to 668 of its top dealers for sales training. Ford wants those dealers to stage an evening event at their stores and invite customers to see the vehicle, Marentic said.
The Explorer's peak sales year was 2000, when Ford sold 445,157. But sales have fallen steadily for a decade. In the first 11 months of 2010, Ford sold just 50,588.
Ford isn't making any predictions about sales of the redesigned version.
"Gone are the days of any vehicle selling 400,000 unless you're an F-series pickup," Marentic said. "But we'll get our fair share."
Prices start at $28,995, including shipping, about $1,100 less than the outgoing model.