In North-America, the truck-based people movers which started the SUV craze (by being true sport and utility vehicles) have long given way to car-based crossovers which have traded their ruggedness for ease of driving and versatility. At Ford, the iconic Explorer has been Taurus-based and front-wheel-drive for a few years now and the Expedition remains the last truck-based vehicle in the regular line-up, while at Lincoln only the Navigator rests on a truck platform yet.
Across the industry, it seems that truly capable off-roaders act as halo vehicles rather than sales leaders: the objectively highly capable Lexus GX and LX do not enjoy the same popularity as the Camry-based RX. Even specialty brands such as Jeep or Land Rover, which have based their reputation on bona fide 4x4s have had to water down their identities somewhat in order to achieve greater sales: while Jeep almost lost itself with the car-based and barely “Trail-rated” Compass, Liberty and Patriot, even its new Cherokee and Renegade are but crossovers infused with off-road capability. At Land Rover, the dramatically styled Evoque will not go where the Range Rover would thrive.
But can manufacturers really be blamed? Trucks and their civilized declinations were once destined to workers and families actually hauling materials or people to the woods, to cottages, on fishing trips and to make city and suburban driving easy even when public plowing could not keep up. Today, your average Grand Cherokee or Range Rover will not encounter anything higher than a curb, deeper than a pothole and will only give its driver extra safety while driving otherwise cleared downtown streets. And for the family that needs to haul or tow, crossovers now offer convincing specs in a cheaper package.
Still, all that to say that Ford is betting on the increased appeal of rear-wheel-drive crossovers as an alternative between front-wheel-drive crossovers that do not resonate as “premium” enough (particularly against imports) and full-on off-roaders that might scare off the average customer. In its “2020 Vision” five-year plan which was recently released and which we covered in these columns, Lincoln would get a new model based on an all-new RWD crossover platform which would then be offered in Ford’s standard line. Nobody knows which form or size this new vehicle would take, but we tied the announcement to the discontinuation of the Australian Ford Territory, which was based on the soon-to-be-discontinued Australian Ford Falcon’s RWD platform. The general idea of that move was to rely across markets on a global line-up in order to lower investments and R&D costs: the Falcon would be replaced by the FWD-Taurus and the Territory would most-likely be replaced if necessary by the Explorer. There went the hopes of Lincoln sedans based off the Falcon’s full-size V8-ready platform.
Well all is not lost for Australians, and maybe Americans, as Ford just announced the release of the Ford Everest, which is a large SUV based on the truck platform of the global Ford Ranger – itself very different from the Ranger discontinued in 2012. The looks and packaging of the Everest, which are clearly inspired by the late Territory as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, could very well fit in other markets as a Ford or better yet as a Lincoln.
True, it is not the car-based crossover hinted at in Ford’s new corporate plan, but it shows that the company’s R&D still has works towards a more traditional approach to the SUV segment. And since Dearborn still plans to improve its “One Ford” approach to a cohesive global line-up, there are chances that the parts of the Everest’s technical or packaging specs will find its way in this mysterious Lincoln crossover.
Wait and see!