Ford Australia has not ruled out offering up to five SUVs in the future, including a potential return of the Explorer badge, as it works on a product road map to reverse a decade of declining sales.
The company will from 2017 have to cope without the popular, locally built Territory high-riding wagon, which has amassed more than 155,000 sales since its release in 2004.
The Australian-developed Ford Everest, an SUV spin-off of the Ranger ute, arrives in 2015, while Ford insiders have indicated the new-generation Edge (pictured below) unveiled this year will eventually join Ford’s local SUV line-up that also currently includes the pint-sized EcoSport and compact Kuga.
Ford’s current five-to-seven-seater Explorer is left-hand drive only and will not be converted is this lifecycle. The next model expected in 2017, however, is tipped to migrate to a version of the ‘CD4’ mid-sized platform underpinning the Fusion/Mondeo medium car as well as the Edge.
Industry speculation also points to the new Explorer being constructed from aluminium like the latest F150 truck to help reduce mass and fuel consumption.
Ford Australia’s marketing boss, David Katic, said the next Explorer was one of the options that could form part of the company’s future consideration mix.
“All I’d say about One Ford is that it gives us a great range of SUV products, and it’s about finding the right balance between too many offerings and too few,” he said. “We’re spoilt for options and we’ll work out those options as we move forward.
“People want a broad range of choice. Ten years ago the Territory was a segment, now it’s fragmented.
“If you asked me 15 years ago if there would be a market for an EcoSport I’d have said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Fifteen years ago if you had a family with 2.4 children you bought a Falcon or a Commodore. Now you’re buying an SUV. And just like passenger cars people think, ‘Do I want a big SUV, a small SUV, genuine off-road [ability]?’.
“Clearly, when you look at the whole SUV spectrum there’s a whole market. Our job is to fulfill all of those SUV needs.”
Ford insiders say newspaper reports claiming a deal has already been done for the next Explorer to be imported here are wide of the mark.
Technically, though, Ford Australia doesn’t have a direct replacement for the road-biased seven-seater Territory.
The Everest (above) is a seven-seater but has been engineered to be far more capable off road than the Territory. It will give Ford a rival to the likes of the Toyota Prado and Isuzu MU-X, though it’s a move that could come at the expense of on-road manners.
The Edge that would be imported from Ford’s Ontario plant in Canada is currently a five-seater only.
A seven-seater version of the Edge is being made in China, though that is likely to remain strictly for that market. Ford Australia sources say it is unclear whether the company will be able to get a three-row version of the Edge assembled in Ontario.
The Ford Edge won’t be seen here any time soon. CarAdvice understands Ford Australia wants to protect the Territory until it stops producing the SUV in October 2016.
Ford Australia also continues to have internal discussions about whether to retain the Territory name for the Edge, aware of the strength of the homegrown SUV’s nameplate in the market.
Ford’s SUV sales are up three per cent year to date to October, totalling 15,007 units. That’s helped by the new EcoSport (1740 units) and Kuga (4901, up 60 per cent), though the just-updated Territory (8366) is down 28 per cent.
The company’s year on year sales to October are down six per cent.