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Ford Explorer
In the beginning...
The story of the First Ford Explorer

Information for this article was provided by:
Derek Elliott, Former Ford Body & Electrical Engineer


This is the first Ford Explorer to roll off of
the Louisville production line. Sept. 1990

The UN46 - Explorer Program
(NAAO) North American Automotive Operations

DRAWING #1  DRAWING #2

The UN46 project started in 1986 with two engineers and one product planner.

  • Chassis & Driveline Engineering - Bill Gillies

  • Body & Electrical Engineering - Derek Elliott

  • Light Truck Product Planning - Steve Ross

The program started out with two styling/engineering concepts being molded in NAD, North American Design (styling studios).

  • Side 'A' of the full size clay model represented an extended version of the current Bronco II with four doors - it was designated the Louisville concept because the Bronco II was built in the Louisville, Kentucky assembly plant. (50% of the components were C/O Bronco II)

  • Side 'B' of the same clay model represented a four door vehicle with limo doors & all new sheet metal (other than) the hood assembly & radiator support assembly.

  • Side 'A' was a want from the financial division & the manufacturing division ( a low cost low risk vehicle that would replace the current Bronco II build at Louisville.

  • Side 'B' was favored by FD (Ford Division), LTEO (Light Truck Engineering Operations), BEO (Body and Electrical Operations), and NAD styling ( it gave the space to improve the aesthetics of the vehicle) B&AO ( Body and Assembly Operations) and most of the remaining design & development activities.

  • We started out with a dual program (designing for feasibility both sides of the clay model)

  • Following two months of styling & engineering the CEO (of Ford Motor Co (Red Poling), the Vice President of NARO (Lou Ross), Steve Ross's father &the Vice President of Ford Division & Marketing, reviewed the styling themes asking each engineering division for further input, BEO had the largest portion of engineering dollars investment. With no financial return, (we were a liability to the program, because we didn't produce anything that could be sold), i.e. All we could offer the program were engineering papers & drawings, & you can not see drawings etc: I was asked by the brass, was it possible to reduce engineering and design costs. I explained to the company directors that BEO costs were based upon CAD, Computer Aided Design & CAM, Computer Aided Machining& we were at the optimum cost levels for body engineering.

  • At that point it was decided to cancel theme 'A' and to commit our resources t theme 'B' with the objective of having the design & manufacturing carried out in Brazil.

  • Paranga in Sao Paulo was to be the assembly plant & Ford Brazil SA would engineer the vehicle with a NAAO team to be on site in Sao Paulo until Job #1 +60 days. I would be there to represent BEO which has approx 75%of the vehicles design/engineering content.

  • Within two weeks of the above decision I was asked to go to Brazil & report on their ability to carry out the design /engineering of all the 52 sub systems that BEO was responsible for.

  • After a full week at Ford Brazil I came to the conclusion that they did not have the technical expertise to do the job. No CAD or R&D capabilities, research and development.

  • Planning & Light Truck Operations came down to Brazil the following week & confirmed my conclusions. Brazil was eliminated for the UN46 program. Costs as well as engineering were also a major factor, off shore costs, shipping & design, durability & testing were all too far away for comfort from a program management point of view.

  •  On getting back from Brazil I was told to go to Europe to see if they could accomplish the task. I went to EAO (European Automotive Operations) in England & Cologne, Germany & they were certainly equipped to do the engineering, but they (EAO & NAAO) wanted the vehicle to be assembled in Valencia (Southeast) Spain. So once more back on the aircraft & Spain. Ford of Spain was building the Fiesta Sedan. After a few days there the NAAO team decided that once more costs were far too high for the profit margin objective. With EAO out of the picture we now came back to the U.S.A. & Louisville assembly plant. The governor of Kentucky promised to provide $30 million for service roads and improved infrastructure if Ford would keep the UN46 in Lousiville for improved employment in the area. That was enough for Ford's CEO to say yes to a USA designed & built vehicle. "We could have lost it"

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