Ford rolls out new Explorer with marketing bang

* Explorer SUV rolled out with boom-era blitz

* Ford prices new Explorer $1,000 below old version

* Ford says will remain cautious on hiring plans

By Deepa Seetharaman and Rick Popely

NEW YORK/CHICAGO, July 26 (BestGrowthStock) – Ford Motor Co (F.N: )
on Monday rolled out a redesigned version of its Explorer SUV
with its flashiest launch since it began a restructuring five
years ago.

The Detroit automaker also promised to hew to the
cost-cutting discipline that has marked its comeback.

The introduction of the 2011 Explorer, the SUV that
generated billions of dollars of profit for Ford a decade ago,
came as analysts raised stock price targets and earnings
estimates for Ford after it reported a second-quarter profit (Read more your timing to make a profit.)
and forecast strong profits this year and in 2011.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker used executive appearances in New
York, Chicago and Washington, an employee rally at its Michigan
headquarters and a campaign on Facebook with almost 50,000 fans
to unveil a more fuel-efficient version of an SUV that had been
the symbol of its success in the 1990s.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally unwrapped an Explorer in
an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show and told reporters at a
presentation in Manhattan’s Herald Square that while sales
would not near former levels, the SUV remained important.
[ID:nN26192987]

“There’s a very nice market for SUVs, still,” Mulally said.
“It’s less than in the past, but people still want really high
quality, fuel efficient SUVs.”

In a return to the elaborate marketing productions that
became a signature of the U.S. auto industry when it was near
peak sales earlier this decade, Ford hauled mulch, dirt and
more than 200 trees and shrubs to Herald Square. The event also
featured mountain bikers and actors posing as hikers.

In Dearborn, Michigan, Ford emptied out its world
headquarters and built a massive dirt ramp for the Explorer to
climb under a banner that covered the top three floors of the
building.

Explorer sales averaged more than 400,000 per year from
1995 through 2003 but tumbled to 52,000 in 2009 as consumers
turned to lighter car-based utility vehicles. Competition
across the SUV segment also ballooned after the Explorer’s
introduction.

The redesigned Explorer will be built on a modified car
platform at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant with a four-cylinder
turbocharged engine available for the first time, aimed at more
than 30 percent better fuel economy than its predecessor. A
six-cylinder version will also be available.

The new Explorer will carry a base price about $1,000 lower
than the previous version at $28,190, Ford said.

About one-third of Explorer sales are outside the United
States and the new SUV is expected to be exported to 90
countries, Ford global marketing chief Jim Farley said.

Ford also expects to take on 1,200 workers to add a second
production shift in Chicago for the Explorer. About 500 workers
on long-term layoff were offered positions first under the
automaker’s contract with the United Auto Workers union.

‘WE WANT TO BE CAUTIOUS’

More than 350 workers on long-term layoff have accepted
positions so far and Ford expects to hire additional workers at
a $14 per hour wage and reduced benefits, according to Jim
Tetreault, vice president for North American manufacturing.

Executive Chairman Bill Ford said he was encouraged by
Ford’s financial results. Ford said he was hopeful the
automaker could hire more new workers beyond the Chicago plant
but warned that the car market remained depressed.

“We want to be cautious and don’t want to overproduce,”
Ford told reporters in Chicago. “We’ve been there before.”

Ford expects to export SUVs from the Chicago plant.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to tour the facility next
week. [ID:nN23177548]

Ford posted a $2.6 billion profit on Friday and said it was
on track for higher earnings and lower debt in 2011.

Ford has sold 6 million Explorers and about 140,000 are
traded in each year, creating a ready-made pool of potential
customers for the new version of the SUV.

Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson raised his price
target on Ford stock to $15 from $13 on Monday, citing the
stronger-than-expected second-quarter profit (Read more your timing to make a profit.) and debt reduction
efforts that trimmed $7 billion of automotive debt.

“In the mid-term, we continue to expect Ford’s strategy to
consolidate global platforms to improve scale and volume to
boost the company’s earnings potential,” Johnson said.

Deutsche Bank raised its price target on Ford shares by $1
to $14.50 and JPMorgan analyst Himanshu Patel raised his 2010
and 2011 earnings per share estimates to $2 from $1.60.
JPMorgan has a “neutral” rating on Ford stock.

Shares of Ford rose 1.7 percent to $12.80 on Monday on the
New York Stock Exchange. The stock is up almost 90 percent over
the past year.

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(Additional reporting by John Crawley and Doug Palmer in
Washington, Rebecca Cook in Dearborn, writing by David Bailey
in Detroit; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Ford rolls out new Explorer with marketing bang