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2020 Ford Explorer launch hardly went according to plan, company admits

The botched rollout of one of Ford's most important vehicles was due to a number of factors.

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All systems are go, Ford promises.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

If the selection of 2020 Ford Explorers at local dealer lots has seemed thin, it's not a mirage. Ford has spent months working to get its Chicago assembly plant running at full speed to churn out the full-size SUV, but along the way, things didn't quite go as planned.

That's something that even Ford has now admitted. The Detroit News reported Monday that the automaker acknowledged its botched 2020 Explorer launch and quoted Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of automotive.

"This is a rarity," he said of the fraught launch process. He added that the company took on far too much at one time and that the operation in Chicago wasn't fully prepared for the enormous shift the new SUV brought to the plant. The latest-generation Explorer moved from a front-wheel-drive architecture to a new rear-wheel-drive platform. That's quite a challenge for any automaker to undertake in retooling.

Ford told Roadshow in a statement, "We're proud that Explorer is America's all-time, best-selling SUV. The transformation at Chicago Assembly was one of the most complex in the company's history, resulting in a slower launch than expected." A company representative added, "We are shipping the all-new Explorer to dealers now and performing additional quality inspections as needed to ensure these vehicles are built with the quality our customers expect."

Alas, Ford gave the Chicago plant just 31 days to retool the facility for 2020 Explorer production. The SUV's sister model, the 2020 Lincoln Aviator, is also assembled there. In those 31 days, it trained the workforce off-site -- an abnormal move, but one executed to start production of the SUVs immediately after retooling finished.

The newspaper said Ford further complicated matters by building multiple models and numerous trim levels all at once. The problems showed up almost immediately. Roadshow reported in September on multiple issues both the new Explorer and Aviator faced. The automaker, at the time, assured all was well, even as the SUVs were shipped from Chicago to the Flat Rock plant in Michigan for additional quality control.

The automaker confirmed with the newspaper that repairs were made at the Michigan plant before the SUVs were finally shipped out to dealers. Ford told Roadshow in September that the Chicago plant afforded no space for the additional quality control to take place.

The results put Ford in a tough spot. Explorer sales are down 50% for the third quarter as the automaker quickly ran out of the hot-selling SUV at dealers. Now, however, the company said it's back on track and ready to make up for lost ground. According to the report, these days there's an SUV rolling out of the factory in Chicago nearly every minute.

Originally published Nov. 12, 8:46 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:56 a.m.: Adds statement from Ford.

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