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Ford's Explorer Rollout Just Keeps Getting Worse

Despite a design overhaul, the 2020 model can't catch a break.

We know the SUV market is a competitive one. And with one automaker after another putting at least most of their eggs into this basket, it’s sure to spark some segment design changes, if only because everyone wants to be the standout.

Which makes the latest problem for the Ford Explorer even worse. The 2020 redesign of Ford’s most famous SUV came on the heels of the company’s announcement that it was all-but-killing its passenger cars.

It’s clear the company had high hopes for the new Explorer and its luxury counterpart, the Lincoln Aviator. Ford spent a billion dollars re-tooling its Chicago plant to accommodate production of the redesigned models and said the 30 day soup-to-nuts overhaul was the fastest retooling the automaker has ever done for an all-new vehicle build.

But was Ford moving too fast? The hotly anticipated vehicles coming out of Chicago were almost immediately either recalled or sent to Ford’s Flat Rock Michigan facility to be fixed. The Detroit Free Press reported in late November on what it termed “horror stories” from Explorer and Aviator owners, detailing problems with leaking sunroofs, display panels and more. One Aviator owner said his console gets hot to the touch, to the point where he can’t set his phone down or it will overheat and shut down.

And as if Ford didn’t have enough on its plate with this messy launch, there are more problems: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has announced that neither model will qualify for a safety award this year.

IIHS says the new Explorer actually performed better in driver-side small overlap front test than earlier models. The vehicle earned good ratings in four of the IIHS tests, but it is required to earn a good rating in the driver-side small overlap crash test in order to be awarded a top safety pick. In this test, where a vehicle travels at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier, “there was enough intrusion into the outboard part of the footwell to elevate the risk of injury to the driver’s left leg” which resulted in the IIHS awarding an overall rating of “acceptable.”

Something tells me Ford didn’t spend a billion-dollars retooling their plant, plus its massive design and development costs, to produce an “acceptable” Explorer. In a 3Q earnings call, Ford acknowledged it took on too much with the Chicago retooling and three new model launches all at once. IIHS says Ford expected to earn a good rating in the recent tests and would “investigate why it didn’t.”

But it’s likely what Ford does with its findings that will determine whether these new models can ultimately flourish in a crowded market for mid-sized SUVs.

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