When you think about the sales of Ford vehicles, you undoubtedly know that the F-Series trucks are by far the number-one seller for the Blue Oval brand.
But what comes in second?
Well, it is probably a good thing for Ford that it has a vehicle that is not only number-two in its lineup, but which happens to be in the segment that will account for about a third of all vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2015, and which is expected to account for about 40% of the entire industry sales by 2020.
And the niche that this Ford product is in is the biggest part of that segment, and is appealing to two non-trivial cohorts of buyers, the Millennials and the Boomers.
The category is sport utility vehicles. The niche is the compact segment within SUVs. And the number-two best-selling Ford is the Escape.
The Escape has been in market for 15 years, during which time some 3-million have been sold.
And for 2017 model year, Ford has made notable improvements to the compact SUV, such that they’re not referring to it as a refresh but a fourth generation of the vehicle.
Milton Wong, chief engineer of the vehicle, said last night (November 16) at the world unveiling of the vehicle in Hollywood, said that his favorite part of the Escape is something that isn’t there: the mechanical hand brake has been replaced by an electric park brake. Consequently, he points out, there is significantly more room for storage and amenities on the inside of the vehicle.
This, Wong says, was not a move made simply because the designers and engineers working on the program thought that it would be a good idea.
Rather, he explains, that when the 2013 Escape came out with a whole new highly styled exterior appearance, a big change from the predominantly rectangular vehicle that it succeeded, customers said that they were interested in having more room for storage in the Escacpe.
“The data speaks,” Wong says. “And we’re a data-driven company.”
Hard to argue with the data, especially when it comes from your customers.
“For us,” Wong says, “2017 was about getting back to our roots. It was about making a great product even better by listening to our customers.”
The styling of the 2017 model is changed, albeit not as extensively as its predecessor. There is a new hood. New front fascia, including headlamps. A new rear fascia and tailgate.
They’ve updated the rear suspension, including larger dampers. “We’ve sacrificed nothing relative to the steering and the handling”—again, something that he says customers are highly complementary of—“but have added greater precision and balance.”
A big change is under the hood, where they have on offer two EcoBoost engines, a 1.5-liter and a twin-scroll 2.0-liter. (There is a carryover 2.5-liter four, as well.) The 1.5 produces, it is anticipated, 180-hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter produces 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque.
What is notable is that both engines come standard with Auto Stop-Start. Wong says that the average driver idles about 16 minutes a day, which means that without stop-start, this is a whole lot of gasoline that is doing nothing more than burning.
Factor in the fact that they estimate that the two EcoBoosts will account for about 90% of Escape sales, so this is a whole lot of fuel that is being saved.
Wong estimates that this will represent the largest application of start-stop tech in the industry. One consequence of that is that they worked exceedingly hard to make sure that they got it right, without the jarring restart that can sometimes can occur. So they benchmarked their system against brands that one doesn’t ordinarily associate with ford, such as Porsche, BMW and Mercedes.
The 2013 model was the first with the hands-free liftgate function. The 2017 model will be the first Ford with SYNC Connect, which allows drivers to unlock and lock doors, start the engine, and find the car all through an app.
Bottom line: the Escape is a big deal for Ford. And for the next model, they’ve made it even better.