Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: product planners at Ford spot a growing car market with middle-class buyers in extra-urban and rural areas and decide to pad the Blue Oval’s product portfolio with sport utility vehicles. No, we’re not talking about the Jacques Nasser-led Ford of the 1990s and the original Explorer; we’re talking about China in 2012.
It’s no secret that the exploding car market in China has caught the eye of dozens of carmakers, and that those carmakers are making international product decisions with Chinese buyers in mind–just look at Cadillac, Volkswagen, Nissan, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, and Bentley. But Ford is taking a big step and anchoring its product strategy with four sport utility vehicles.
Word of Ford’s Chinese SUV boom comes from the Detroit Free Press, which reports that Ford executives said as much during this week’s Beijing Auto Show. As the report goes, Ford is looking to sell four utilities in China, and source at least two of them from Chinese factories. The move would keep prices from ballooning thanks to China’s high import taxes. The lower prices, in turn, should be a boon to the SUVs’ intended market, the burgeoning Chinese middle class.
The smallest of the utilities will be the EcoSport, a CUV that will be made in Chongqing, China, and will be powered by the brand’s new 1.0-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder EcoBoost engine. From there, Ford’s Chinese SUV/Crossover lineup will look much like our own in the States: Kuga (known here as the Escape), Edge, and Explorer. The Kuga will also come from the Chongqing complex, but it appears the Edge will be imported from Oakville, Ontario, and the Explorer from Chicago, Illinois.
If all of this sounds a little familiar, it’s because it is. Ford’s SUV portfolio exploded after the early 1990s introduction of the original Explorer SUV, and sales of the Explorer hit 445,000 units per year in 2000. But rising gas prices, economic recession, and the residual effect of Ford’s Firestone tire debacle in 2001 helped to contribute to the brand’s late-2000s malaise. In 2009, the most popular car scrapped under the cash for clunkers program was the late ’90s Explorer, and Ford was barely escaping bankruptcy.
We’d like to think that times have changed: all four of the SUVsintended for the Chinese market have available EcoBoost turbocharged engines, and the U.S.-market Edge, Explorer, and Escape offer standard traction control to prevent rollovers. The era of thirsty, top-heavy Ford Explorers may be over, but whether or not Ford is back to its old ways remains to be seen. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Source: Detroit Free Press