By Jackie Hays
(LOUISVILLE) -- Although you won't see them at dealerships until September, the 2006 Ford Explorers are rolling off the assembly line at the Louisville Ford plant. Production of the SUVs began in mid-July, and as WAVE 3's Jackie Hays reports, this year's model has a new design.
Since it's debut in 1990, the Ford Explorer has been at the top of the SUV heap in sales.
Louisville Assembly Plant Manager Joe Bobnar says the "Ford Explorer really set the standard. You know, when you're king of the hill, everybody's taking a shot at you."
But, over the past few years, the king has faced a number of new challengers.
"There's tremendous competition in there from crossover vehicles," Bobnar said.
The growing popularity of smaller SUVs better-suited for city streets spurred a sportier makeover for the explorer in 2002.
But since then, Explorer sales have been on a downhill trend, prompting six week-long shutdowns at the Fern Valley Road assembly plant this year.
Bobnar says the latest Explorer now in production is returning to its off-road roots. "The people demand a very comfortable ride but yet they still want the toughness and utility that the Explorer provides in regard to towing and other off-road activities.
Bobnar says the 2006 Explorer will have a new engine to go with its new look. "We're going to have a new 4.6 liter V-8 with a 6-speed transmission ... "gives you an improvement in gas mileage by about two miles per gallon."
The smaller V-6 engine has also been redesigned, and emissions have been reduced by 74 percent.
The price is lower, too. Ford officials say that, on average, the 2006 will cost $1,700 less than the 2005 model.
Online Reporter: Jackie Hays