As we roll along towards tomorrow’s social-media-focused reveal of the 2011 Explorer, I thought we’d take one last time to discuss the old trucks and their general merits. It’s possible to argue that the Explorer has provided quality transport for millions of American families; it’s also possible to cast the vehicle in the role of villain, with its victims being those same families, the environment, and the shape of the American auto market.
I’ll make both arguments below, and then I’d like to hear your opinion.
Pro: When the Explorer debuted, CAFE regulations and changing perceptions had all but killed-off the family station wagon. The last all-new family-sized RWD American wagons debuted from Ford and General Motors in 1978, twelve full years before the Explorer’s arrival.
The price, performance, available four-wheel-drive, and interior space suited customers exceptionally well, and even if 95% of potential customers would have been better-served by a modern RWD station wagon, there simply wasn’t one to be had at a reasonable price.
As pointed out in the TTAC comments, the Explorer has always had a decent overall safety record, and the 2002-forward model has been much better than average in this regard. It’s an all-purpose vehicle, giving families the ability to tow, haul, and make through nearly any weather conditions. Until the arrival of the crossovers, it was the most “real-world” of the SUVs, with a focus on over-the-road competence instead of imaginary off-road heroics.
It’s a good truck.
Con: The Ford Explorer is the vehicle that took Americans out of family sedans and wagons, putting them in a heavy, fuel-sucking, rollover-prone, unsafe pickup truck with a cap on it. It’s been a scam from Day One, earning Ford billions of dollars and dodging both CAFE and safety regulations thanks to its truck roots.
The vast majority of Explorer purchasers bought too much truck, paid too much, and received too little. The fuel consumption differences between an Explorer and a Taurus wagon, multiplied by the millions of units sold, amount to a staggering waste of the planet’s resources.
The Explorer was a bad product that drove good product out of the marketplace. It encouraged automakers to sell more converted pickups and was directly responsible for such abominations as the four-door S-10 Blazer and TrailBlazer. The sales volume of the Explorer effectively killed-off Taurus development, most notably Taurus wagon development, depriving hundreds of thousands of families of safer, more economical, and more reasonable transportation.
The Explorer helped teach America to get back in two-ton vehicles that got 14 miles per gallon, just when Toyota and Honda had taught them to get out of those vehicles. And some of them died for the privilege of riding “high and mighty” above their neighbors.
It’s a national disgrace.
I won’t say how I personally feel about the old Explorer. I’m also prohibited from talking about the new Explorer, but suffice it to say that I feel the new vehicle helps address both viewpoints above. Until you can see it, though, let’s talk about the old ones…