After 65 years, GM’s Suburbans finally faces a challenge. A big challenge.
No matter what the new Ford Excursion’s virtues may be–and there are many–a fair number of folks seem to have a problem seeing past the sheer mass of this thing. Some of these same folks raised an almighty furor when Ford’s new imperial-size utility vehicle–now the absolute monarch of the motorized mastodons–was unveiled earlier this year. They portrayed the Excursion as an unmitigated menace to smaller vehicles and, with fuel economy unlikely to top 18 mpg, a serious spewer of carbon dioxide–the so-called greenhouse gas–despite the Excursion’s Low-Emission Vehicle status.
To be sure, there’s no denying the Excursion’s dimensions. At 226.7 inches by 80.0 inches by 77.4 inches (including roof rack), it’s 7.2 inches longer, 3.3 inches wider, and between 5.4 and 5.8 inches taller than the current General Motors Suburban. It’s also heavier, with curb weights crowding the four-ton frontier.
But let’s acquire a little perspective here. The Excursion is one big bopper, for sure, but the Suburban is no wraith, and it’s had the full-size-sport-utility market cornered for about 65 years. Although Ford did grab a chunk of the full-size-SUV business with the Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator, Suburban sales continued to soar, topping 150,000 last year. Ford execs couldn’t see any reason to allow GM to define and dominate a steadily expanding segment.
Ford’s entry into the mastodon market is driven by a couple of compelling motives. First, the Expedition/Navigator program, which succeeded beyond Ford’s wildest dreams, proves that the market for king-size sport-utilities still has a considerable potential for growth. People want the big utes for heavy-duty chores, such as towing, that the smaller ones can’t handle, or can’t handle as well. The Expedition’s upper towing limit, for example, is 8300 pounds; a suitably equipped Excursion can drag a trailer weighing up to 10,000. The same goes for the Suburban.
Second, there’s money to be made on big expensive SUVs based on large-volume pickups. Financial analysts calculate that every Navigator nets almost $15,000 for FoMoCo. It’s not unreasonable to assume that each Excursion will contribute almost as much cash to the corporate bottom line. You don’t make that kind of money on Escorts, folks. Or on Explorers.
There are a couple other ironies relative to the initial Excursion backlash. Although it’s heftier, the Excursion’s dimensions are about the same as those of the largest Ford Econoline van, a vehicle type that has thus far failed to provoke righteous indignation among the self-appointed environmental ombudsmen. For that matter, there are Ford full-size pickups that are a root and a half longer than the Excursion. Where were these people when the civilian edition of the AM General Hummer came along? Of course, the Sierra Club doesn’t go after companies that sell only a handful of $70,000-to-$85,000 vehicles.
Speaking of safety, one of the major concerns of the anti-ute hysteria is what happens when a giant SUV, with its high ground clearance, smites an ordinary passenger car. We think Ford has a pretty good answer in the Excursion’s patented BlockerBeam system, a tubular steel fixture mounted below and behind the front bumper. If or when hard contact occurs, the beam is designed to prevent the Excursion from riding up and over a smaller vehicle. In the rear, a modified Class IV trailer hitch serves the same function.
The Excursion can ingest up to 165 cubic feet of car go with its center seats folded forward and its rearmost seat removed. Thanks to a pair of rollers, one person can manage the removal task, although it entails crawling inside to lift the base free of the latches. There’s room for those ubiquitous four-by-eight-foot sheets of building material on the almost-flat floor, despite the inside spare-tire stowage (which helped to make space for the 44-gallon fuel tank).