Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. has about 15,000 orders — about double its projections — for the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. that isn’t slated to hit showrooms until the new year.
The preorders include about 3,000 retail orders, 7,500 dealer orders and more than 4,500 from companies, Ford officials say.
For the 2011 model year, the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. goes from its traditional body-on-frame truck roots to a reincarnation atop the underpinnings of the Ford Taurus, making it a more fuel-efficient crossover, compared to an SUV. Ford hopes the remake will spur a sales resurgence for a vehicle that was hugely successful before higher gasoline prices tamped down the demand for SUVs.
Production of the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. is under way at the Chicago Assembly Plant, which also makes the Taurus and Lincoln MKS. A second shift was added Nov. 1.
At an event Wednesday, Ford will mark the start of production that should hit full stride next month.
If preorders are any indication, production will be hard-pressed to meet demand in the early months, said Craig Patterson, marketing manager for the Explorer.
Because the Explorer is a well-known name and vehicle, Patterson expects strong demand. But considering that customers haven’t been able to drive it, and the advertising push won’t begin until January, the early groundswell exceeds expectations.
The Explorer has 75,000 Facebook fans, and has been shown at regional events such as this year’s Arts, Eats and Beats in Royal Oak and the Texas State Fair, Patterson said.
“There are people with Explorers who want a new one so maybe there is some pent-up demand for what was a popular vehicle,” said Stephanie Brinley, analyst with EMC Strategic Communications in Troy.
Initial popularity exceeds that of the Ford Fiesta and Taurus, said spokesman Jay Ward.
Almost half of the early orders are for the top-of-the-line $40,000 Limited model; two-thirds are paying extra for four-wheel drive; almost half are opting for a navigation system; and 87 percent are equipping their Explorer with the MyFord Touch infotainment system.
The average transaction price of Ford vehicles has increased steadily and the Explorer could continue that trend, said Jason Mase, Ford’s manager of utility vehicles.
About 55 percent of buyers to date are choosing trailer packages, suggesting they continue to view the vehicle as a capable SUV, Mase said. And 64 percent want four-wheel drive.
Ford executives say consumers don’t care whether an SUV is a car or a truck, as long as their needs are met.
Ford will tout the fuel economy of the new Explorer which continues to offer a V-6 engine, dropping the V-8, and will add a turbocharged four-cylinder in the summer for the 2012 model.
Compared to the current V-6, the lighter, car-based vehicle will have 25 percent better fuel economy, Patterson said.
Demand for the premium four-cylinder engine — only available with front-wheel-drive models — is expected to vary according to fuel prices, said Mase, but the V-6 should account for the majority of sales.
“The new Explorer is more fuel efficient and brings more technology to the table,” he said.
The Explorer also finds itself in a dynamic segment of the market.
Crossovers and midsize SUVs have continued to see strong sales growth, even when the rest of the industry was flat, Mase said. Utility vehicle sales were up about 25 percent in the third quarter and are now responsible for one in three vehicles sold in the U.S.