Ford Explorer EV races into European segment poised for big gains

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Ford is affixing the storied Explorer nameplate to a new electric compact crossover for Europe, the company said Tuesday.

Ford unveiled the new vehicle during a digital event ahead of deliveries, which are set to start early next year.

The Ford Explorer name was chosen “as a nod to our American heritage and the spirit of adventure that the name Explorer is very much synonymous with,” a spokesman said.

The European Ford Explorer, however, is very different from its U.S. counterpart. The European version is about 14.67 feet long and is based on Volkswagen Group’s electric MEB electric platform. The U.S. Explorer is categorized as a large crossover at about 16.56 feet long. It is powered by combustion engines up to 3.3 liters in size.

Ford offers a plug-in hybrid version of the U.S.-made Explorer in Europe, but sales will end this summer, the automaker said.

The European Explorer will be built at Ford’s plant in Cologne, Germany, replacing the Fiesta small car.

A second version of the Explorer, expected to be named the Explorer Sport, will follow and will also be assembled in the Cologne factory.

Output of the two Explorer models sold in Europe will total 1.2 million over a period of six years, the company has said.

Ford said the new Explorer EV will start at less than 45,000 euros ($48,200) when it goes on sale, without giving a precise figure or revealing the markets where that price will apply.

The new EV will compete against VW Group models on the same platform such as the VW ID4 and forthcoming Cupra Tavascan, as well models such as the Nissan Ariya and Toyota bZ4X.

The Explorer EV’s smaller size, however, classifies it as compact, potentially giving it an edge when most electric models from volume automakers are midsize.

Very few compact electric SUVs and crossovers are currently sold in Europe, with the top-seller after two months being the Mazda MX-30 at 1,403 units followed by the MG Marvel R at 1,177 units.

Europe’s nascent compact electric crossover segment grew 182 percent to 3,769 units during the first two months, according to figures from market researcher Dataforce.

Overall demand for compact utility vehicles is stronger than ever in Europe. The segment passed small cars after two months to become the region’s second-largest vehicle segment. Sales of compact SUVs and crosovers rose 25 percent to 257,131 through February, according to Dataforce, while small car sales rose 11 percent to 253,474.

The first Explorer EVs available will be high-specification Select and Premium models, depending on market. Ford has said standard equipment in the models will include heated front seats with massage function, hands-free tailgate opening, a heated steering wheel and keyless entry. Lane change assist will also be part of the crossover’s driver assistance package.

One way that the interior of the Explorer will differ from VW Group MEB models such as the VW ID4 is that it will have a portrait-aspect central touchscreen rather than one with a landscape perspective. The 14.9-inch screen also slides upward to reveal a hidden compartment to store phones and other valuables while parked, Ford said.

No battery size or range has been announced, but charging is fast enough to top up the battery from 10 to 80 percent in 25 minutes, the company said. The speed suggests the same 170-kilowatt charging system as on the VW ID4.

Battery sizes are expected conform to VW Group’s offering for its MEB models, starting with a 52-kilowatt-hour version, rising to 77 kWh for the more expensive models. Range is expected to reach more than 480 km (300 miles) on the WLTP cycle.

The Explorer will be offered with three different powertrains: 168-hp rear-wheel drive; 282-hp rear-wheel drive; and 335-hp all-wheel drive, Ford said.

The design of the crossover is a “reinterpretation of the assertive and rugged appeal” of the U.S. Explorer aimed to appeal more to European tastes while also improving aerodynamics, Ford said.

Ford has said it will highlight its U.S. roots much more in the design and marketing of vehicles in Europe as it shifts to electric ahead of axing combustion-engine models altogether in 2030.

“The Explorer is a trailblazer for a new breed of exciting Ford electric vehicles,” Martin Sander, head of Ford’s Model e electric division in Europe, said in a statement.

Ford’s partnership with Volkswagen on electric vehicles is expected to end with the production of the two Explorer models as it develops its own platform suitable for the European market.

The two companies also work together on commercial vehicles, with VW Group CEO Oliver Blume saying last week their partnership was “intensifying.”