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Detroit show: Ford evaluating RHD Explorer

Explore this: The existing Explorer (left) is not built in right-hand drive but the next-gen version could be.

Seven-seat Explorer could fill gap in Ford’s line-up as Toyota Kluger rival

Ford logo16 Jan 2018

By TIM NICHOLSON in Detroit

FORD executives have confirmed that the Explorer could return to Australian showrooms with the company exploring the viability of producing the next-generation large seven-seat SUV in right-hand drive.

While the next-gen version of the big SUV is yet to be seen, it is expected to make its debut this year and go on sale Stateside in 2019.

Speaking to Australian journalists at this week’s Detroit motor show, Ford Motor Company executive vice-president of product development and purchasing Hau Thai-Tang said there “absolutely” was an opportunity for the next-generation Explorer to be a global, rather than US-focused model.

“We are selling it in other markets, we have it in Russia,” he said. “I think the Australian market would be a good market for it. In other markets it is just a little bit big in terms of width. But I know our team in Europe have been really keen to explore that beyond the Russian market.

“There is nothing to announce yet. We are always looking at opportunities.”

The executive that oversees the Australian market, Ford Motor Company group vice-president and president of Ford Asia Pacific Peter Fleet, said he was keen to expand the global reach of the Explorer.

“I would love to have wider availability of Explorer,” he told Australian journalists at the Detroit show. “It is a power brand globally, Explorer. Even in markets we haven’t sold Explorer, people know what that is. Within our company it is such a strong product and I would love that opportunity.”

Asked whether there was a chance the next-gen version would be built in right-hand drive, Mr Fleet said he would support it and highlighted the strategy that led to the Mustang sportscar becoming a global model in its current generation.

“I have got nothing to announce today, but we would love to. Is there an opportunity for that vehicle in UK and Ireland? It was the big leap we made with Mustang, to say that there was a big enough opportunity with right-hand drive. Plus the … positive impact on the brand.

“And at that time the company made the leap and said ‘ok yes we are going to go global on Mustang’. That is the kind of decision we would need to make with Explorer as well.

“And I will be frank, we have not made that decision. Might we make that decision? Well yeah it is possible. If I get my business case lined up, I would love to be able to globalise the Explorer proposition.”

If it gets the green light for right-hook production it would bolster Ford Australia’s SUV line-up and give it a seven-seat soft-roader to compete with the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Kluger, Kia Sorento and upcoming Holden Acadia.

Ford currently sells the Everest seven-seater in Australia, but it is built on a ladder-frame, pick-up-based chassis unlike the softer models in the segment that are monocoque.

Later this year Ford will introduce the Edge-based Endura large SUV to Australia, however it will be a five-seat offering powered exclusively by a diesel powertrain.

The truck-based second- and third-generation Explorer was sold in Australia between 1996 and 2007 but it was never a strong seller. The fourth- and current fifth-generation models were not produced in right-hand drive and the Explorer has since moved to a monocoque chassis.

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