By on July 28, 2009

Ford Explorer Sport Trac went into production in 2000 and will be leaving us next year, reports Automotive News [sub]. But what, you might ask, will happen to the “torn between Explorer and Ranger” market segment? Will they have to choose?

Like the Subaru Baja before it, the Sport Trac is departing, and our automotive landscape will be a little less weird for it. But the few of these automotive non sequiturs that were sold will surely live forever in the hands of their blissfully indecisive and gimmick-prone owners. Everyone else will shrug and buy the truck they were going to buy in the first place. (The Mercury Explorer Clone will also be dying when the Explorer goes unibody. For what that’s worth.)

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33 Comments on “Eulogy for a Sport Trac...”


  • avatar
    RobertSD

    All indications point to Ford having a proper four-door compact pick-up within a year after its death, though. Not quite as quirky, I know, but it does a similar job…

  • avatar
    BDB

    I still can’t figure out why they’re making the Explorer unibody. Don’t we already have a Unibody Explorer? It’s called the Edge.

  • avatar
    dwford

    @BDB: Because everyone else has given up on the BOF midsize SUV. Notice the Explorers sales slide from 400k a year to under 100k. The market has moved on. Leave the niche to the 4runner and the Kia Borrego. The new Explorer will be a real SUV style competitor to the Chevy Traverse, Gmc Acadia, Highlander, Pilot etc – the larger unibody SUV/CUVs seating 7/8 as opposed to the Flex, which is more of a Pacifica/Venza style station wagon. Not sure about the Ecoboost 4 cylinder, given how heavy the Flex is. The Explorer is bound to be bigger and heavier.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    I always thought the Avalanche was the gimmickiest of this bizzare segment.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Im with BDB on this one. There is no room nor reason for a unibody explorer in the lineup. Either make the explorer competitive with the 4runner, pathfinder , and xterra or let it die a dignified death.

  • avatar
    z4eva

    Ford’s SUV/ Crossover lineup (for 95% of the population they’re exactly the same thing) has become rather confused. They now sell:

    Edge
    Taurus X
    Flex
    Escape
    Explorer
    Expedition
    Sport Trac (obviously on its way out)

    It’s almost as if for any given niche they have 2 redundant vehicles… And if the Explorer goes crossover, you then have the Edge, Taurus X and Explorer all seemingly right on top of each other.

    Especially surprising given how clean their car and truck lineup has become.

  • avatar
    BDB

    The new Explorer will be a real SUV style competitor to the Chevy Traverse, Gmc Acadia, Highlander, Pilot etc – the larger unibody SUV/CUVs seating 7/8 as opposed to the Flex, which is more of a Pacifica/Venza style station wagon.

    See, I already see the Flex as a competitor to the GM Lambdas and the Pilot.

    A unibody Explorer would unnecessarily compete with the (excellent and underrated) Edge on the low end, and with the Flex on the high end.

  • avatar
    MBella

    I imagine the new Explorer’s only purpose will be to allow a less polarized style Flex. I’m sure it will be based on the same platform, share a big percentage of parts, and hopefully they will play their cards right, and have little added cost to build.

    If they play their cards right it will be the CUV equivalent of the Golf and Beetle. Basically the same car, one with very unique styling, the other an average looking hatch. They both satisfy their target demographics, but are basically the same to build.

  • avatar
    lw

    Probably enough used ones to make the diehards happy for years.

    Ford stock at $7+… July sales should be interesting…

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    “But what, you might ask, will happen to the ‘torn between Explorer and Ranger’ market segment? Will they have to choose?”

    Bob Lutz told me that the Commodore Ute is going to come over as a Chevy El Camino and a GMC Caballero. He was about to tell me his secret plans to bring back Oldsmobile and a Camaro based 442, but he had to hang up so that the government couldn’t track his call.

  • avatar
    BDB

    I imagine the new Explorer’s only purpose will be to allow a less polarized style Flex.

    Why didn’t they just keep the Taurus X, then? That’s basically what it was.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    I imagine the new Explorer’s only purpose will be to allow a less polarized style Flex.

    Why didn’t they just keep the Taurus X, then? That’s basically what it was.

    Okay, different polarization. Take the Flex (or the Edge, if you prefer), style it to look like what the average consumer thinks an “SUV” should look like (i.e., rugged), and call it an Explorer.

  • avatar
    RobertSD

    @ z4eva

    Taurus X is gone, can’t use it to talk about overlap. The Expedition is a truck with towing capacity of 9,000 lbs – not a good argument either.

    Ford’s CUV line-up will be: Escape, Edge, Explorer, Flex. That doesn’t seem particularly difficult to manage.

    @dwford

    My impression is that the Explorer will likely be 10″ longer than the Edge and shorter than the Flex. It will sit higher than the Flex. Towing, passenger capacity and cargo volumes will be > than the Edge. The dynamics will probably be more truck-like than the Edge or Flex and it will probably be a decent off-roader in AWD configuration unlike the Edge or Flex.

    The weight won’t be much different than the Flex. A 2.0 Ecoboost would probably do ok if the current 4.0 with 210 hp/250 lb-ft torq can survive in a vehicle 300-400 lbs heavier.

  • avatar
    trk2

    I think the new Explorer, despite being unibody, will clearly be an SUV rather then a crossover. My guess it will follow the Cherokee/Grand Cherokee mold and still be a clear SUV while still being unibody based. This means it will still offer a locking center differential with low range, that’s what will separate it from Ford’s other crossovers.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Seth L: “I always thought the Avalanche was the gimmickiest of this bizzare segment.”I suspect that the demise of the Avalanche won’t be too far behind that of the Sport Trak. My guess would be that it will last until the next Silverado makeover, and then it won’t be in the lineup.

  • avatar
    NN

    If the Sport trac had the Avalanches mid gate, weighed at least 500lbs less and had decent fuel economy, I suspect things would have been different. I always loved the Avalanches versatility between pickup and SUV, but hated the fact that it was such a huge beast. The Subaru Baja was kinda cool but still not enough of a truck. Don’t tell me you can take a Subaru off road…I took my old AWD Legacy wagon on the beach once and caused $900 of damage thanks to the low ground clearance and deep sand.

  • avatar
    th009

    NulloModo: Im with BDB on this one. There is no room nor reason for a unibody explorer in the lineup.

    I still don’t understand the need for a body-on-frame in this segment — what exactly does BOF give you that you can’t do with unibody?

    Building on a unibody platform will allow Ford to gain economies of scale and improve fuel economy.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    th009 – BOF lends itself more readily to towing capcity and offroad prowess. Yes, there are some unibody SUVs out there that can tow well and handle themselves offroad well, but they tend to be built on dedicated or purpose-built platforms designed for SUV use.

    If the next Explorer stays RWD, and has a truck-focused platform that doesn’t lose the towing or offroad utility, then perhaps going unibody is a worthwhile decision. However, if it is just going to be based on one of the existing car platforms (as it appears it will be from everything I have read) then it is really going to be nothing more than a lifted Flex or a long wheelbase Edge.

    In either of those cases, it would make sense to use the established Edge nameplate, instead of invoking the Explorer name for a vehicle that really doesn’t have the same capabilities. The Edge will be due for a facelift in a couple years anyway, so, just make it the Edge EL and compete against the Traverse/Acadia that way.

    The slot the Explorer fills now is certainly a small niche. It’s strengths play to those who need to tow relative big loads or who go offroad fairly often, but who don’t want the size of, or can’t afford, and Expedition. The actual fuel economy of an Expedition or a F150 isn’t much less, and in certain cases is better than, an Explorer or Sport Trac, and both have much nicer interiors. The Explorer/Sport-Trac combo could be made into power players in the small niche, but, as it has been said, it looks like it is better business sense to abandon it rather than spend the money necessary to develop a competitive product (ala Ford’s decision to get out of the minivan game).

  • avatar
    Signal11

    @NN

    If you know your vehicle’s capabilities and make good track selection, you can take a Subaru Legacy AWD to a lot of places people would otherwise think is impossible.

    I once hired a guy to take me from Lokichokio, Kenya to Juba, Sudan across what were mostly dirt roads at the time. In a Subaru wagon. During rainy season. A couple times, I had to get out to move the logs around on the bridges. I later made the return trip in a Toyota Landcruiser Prado and got stuck half dozen times. Why? Because that other guy knew what he was doing and I didn’t.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Generally a good truck is supposed to be body of frame with live axles.

    However, the Jeep Cherokee is unibody, and the real Hummer, the HUMVEE or H1, has fully independent suspension.

    So it really comes down to the details.

    Very few people need strong off roading capabilities.

    More people need towing capability, and a live rear axle is more durable for towing.

    However, none of Ford’s SUVs have live axles anyway, and most people that actually tow are probably using the Expedition, so Ford is smart to move the Explorer to the Volvo D platform.

    “Explorer” is a very strong brand, if the D platform Explorer is redundant to the Edge or Flex then one of those models will probably be killed.

  • avatar
    Lug Nuts

    The ultimate metrosexual trucklet will finally be no more. Good riddance.

  • avatar
    Flipper

    If they took the development money away from the new Explorer, and put it to reducing the weights of the Flex & the Edge, Ford could have TWO really competitive products.As opposed to yet another overweight midsize truck crowding their showrooms.

  • avatar
    cpmanx

    +1 to no_slushbox

    Developing another D3 spinoff is not a terribly expensive proposition, and the Explorer name still has some market resonance. Ford has implied that there could be some triage among these nameplates. Taurus X is already gone, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another one of them go.

    In the big set of product announcements from a few months back, Ford also hinted at a possible Focus-based CUV that would slot beneath the Escape/Kuga. That would seem to make another strong argument for losing one of the overlapping models on the big end of the CUV range.

  • avatar
    JuniorMint

    …and good riddance to this piece of crap.

    I have never seen a vehicle with a greater disparity between “perceived practicality” and “actual practicality.”

    I had to load one of these losers at my job once. I had to put in four long metal poles, each 1″ by 1″ by 7′. Easy, right? They fit in my xB no problem. You could put 50 of them in there and still fit two of your friends.

    Only there’s no place to put them in the SportTrac. The tiny, useless bed is too small. The passenger cabin doesn’t extend far back enough. What the customer ended up doing (I didn’t help because it would get us sued) was starting them between his wife’s feet, and poking them out one of the back windows. I sure hope he didn’t catch any signposts on the way home. Or bicyclists.

    Serves him right for falling for such a stupid gimmick. My station wagon is immeasurably more practical.

    Made me wonder: if you can never transport anything longer than a yardstick, what on earth is the truck actually USEFUL for?

  • avatar
    th009

    NulloModo: BOF lends itself more readily to towing capcity and offroad prowess. Yes, there are some unibody SUVs out there that can tow well and handle themselves offroad well, but they tend to be built on dedicated or purpose-built platforms designed for SUV use.

    The Explorer’s current maximum towing capacity is 7300 lbs, with the V8. On the other hand, the unibody VW Touareg will tow 7700 lbs, even with a V6 engine. (No other product comparison intended, just towing capacity example for unibody vs body-on-frame, though a similar point could be argued about off-road capability.)

    Whether Ford’s D3 platform is good enough for SUVs and crossovers is a whole other question. If it’s not, the Blue Oval Boys have some work to do in the future.

  • avatar
    PaulieWalnut

    From what I’ve read on the interweb the new Explorer will be this:

    Engines will be 2.0 ecoboost and 3.5 ecoboost and possibly 3.5 naturally aspirated. D platform. FWD/AWD.

    The 2.0 will get more than 26 but less than 30mpg on the EPA highway cycle.

    It’ll be a little shorter and a fair bit narrower than the Flex and will have greater ground clearance.

    It’ll be a good bit lighter than the Flex (a magnesium tailgate has been mentioned).

    It’ll have a significantly better towing capacity than the flex (currently 4,500lbs).

    It will look like a truck and have a decent tow rating. Therefore, in the minds of most consumers, it will be a truck. This will separate it from the Edge, which is crossover and the Flex which is a, um, er, not-a-minivan.

  • avatar
    jamie1

    Look at why people have left the SUV segment – fuel economy and driving dynamics.
    A unibody Explorer SUV with EcoBoost will sort out both of those issues while still being seen as an SUV – looks like a smart move to me.

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    Generally a good truck is supposed to be body of frame with live axles.

    However, the Jeep Cherokee is unibody, and the real Hummer, the HUMVEE or H1, has fully independent suspension.

    Comparing the CV Jointed garbage on the current Explorer to a Portal Axle set up like an H1 or Pinzgauer is nuts. They’re not comparable.

    Whether Ford keeps the Explorer, moves it to FWD architecture or eliminates it entirely probably doesn’t matter much. There may be a market for a lifted Flex with Escape styling cues (which is what it sounds like they’re planning) but I don’t think there’s any great equity left in the Explorer name.

  • avatar
    JMII

    All Ford needs is an updated Ranger with Eco-Boost and 4 doors. Think Quad Cab Dakota only with better mileage and the same towing capacity.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    I always thought the Sport Trac was gimmicky and overpriced. With its plastic bed it was also very limited in terms of utility.

    In South America Ford makes a 4 door Ranger (with a turbo diesel, of course.) IMO that would have been a much better choice than the silly looking Sport Trac. My ’99 Ranger was flawless for the 4 years and 93,000 miles I had it, and was the best “road trip” vehicle I ever owned.

    My hope would be that when Ford decides to refresh/update the Ranger pickup they’ll add a true 4 door to the lineup (hopefully with that TDi motor.) I think such a vehicle could be truly competitive and might help Ford regain a market they once owned.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    @BDB: Because everyone else has given up on the BOF midsize SUV. Notice the Explorers sales slide from 400k a year to under 100k. The market has moved on. Leave the niche to the 4runner and the Kia Borrego.

    Exactly the reason why Ford should keep the Explorer as body-on-frame. The 4Runner and Pathfinder aren’t the strongest sellers on the market, but for those who want to have an SUV that can actually pull a boat or trailer, without going behemoth like a Yukon or Land Cruiser or paying the premiums to drive them. The Ford Explorer fails at the niche it created because Ford is trying to hard to make it something it is not.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    The 4Runner and Pathfinder aren’t the strongest sellers on the market, but for those who want to have an SUV that can actually pull a boat or trailer, without going behemoth like a Yukon or Land Cruiser or paying the premiums to drive them. The Ford Explorer fails at the niche it created because Ford is trying to hard to make it something it is not

    Not taking issue with your point but just with the highlighted portion. Yes, it’s pedandtic but then again, where would the internet be without pedantry?

    Just wanted to point out that the “niche” in which the Explorer sits was well entrenched by the time the Explorer made its debut in 1990. The Pathfinder and 4runner you mention were both in production for several years before that time.

    This is perhaps a bit of a bleed-over from the “ten most influential” discussion but regarding the Explorer’s place in automotive history, I think it’s clear that the Explorer was popular for the same reason that pop music is popular: It is bland, inoffensive, and appeals to the lowest common denominator. Other vehicles in the class (notably the 4runner and the Xterra) succeeded because they offered something their competitors didn’t.

    Likewise, the vehicles that failed in this class like the Montero, Trooper and Rodeo did so because they failed to distinguish themselves from the pack and offered no real advantages over the competition.

    At this point, I wonder why Ford would even throw money after the Explorer anyway. There’s nothing the Explorer does that other vehicles don’t do better. Want towing capacity? Get an Expedition. Want economy? Get a hybrid Escape. 3 row seating and funky styling? Get a Flex or an Edge. Want genuine off-road capability? Get a Jeep or better yet a Toyota.

    It’s true that the Explorer has made a lot of money for Ford for the past 19 years but honestly, would anyone miss it?

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    All Ford needs is an updated Ranger with Eco-Boost and 4 doors. Think Quad Cab Dakota only with better mileage and the same towing capacity.

    I hope Ford keeps the Ranger a true Compact. If they move it up a size class like you suggest, they’ll be competing against the Tacoma and Frontier, and that’s a losing game.

    An up-to-date, true Compact, on the other hand, will have a segment to itself.

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