Recently, I was recalling favorite teachers with a friend. I mentioned my 7th and 8th grade science teacher, later my varsity basketball coach, Mr. Rick Fox. He was tall, bold, and with a deep voice, commanded respect in the classroom and on the court. He drove a white Ford Explorer – if I had to guess the year, somewhere between 1991 and 1993.
When I realized he had one in 1995, I started seeing them everywhere.
My parents embraced the minivan era wholeheartedly. Our weekend trips to Sioux City, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota where rarely orchestrated outside the confines of a minivan. Still, I saw the Ford Explorer frequently and wondered why my father, despite talking about it, never bought one.
By the time I reached high school, I had largely written off the Explorer in my endless obsession of the F-150 and Mustang. Convinced it was my imagination, I put to rest the notion of them being, literally, everywhere. Life was good: I was participating actively in the F-150 and Silverado battle with my classmates, and waving the banner for American muscle and the Mustang against foreign speedsters. My grades were not the hottest, but that’s a story for a different day.
The Explorer didn’t come back into my life until 1998, when I got my first job as a sophomore: a stock boy at the local Fareway grocery store. I would often bag groceries and assist customers in carrying them out to their car. It wasn’t glamorous but at 16, when you make $100.00 a week and Sony Playstation games are regularly on sale, it’s amazing. After school, from 4 until 9, I would carry out groceries and with each night, a reoccurring theme: I was loading groceries constantly into a Ford Explorer.
Unwilling to give up the pedestal in my heart occupied by F-150 and Mustang, I again wrote the Explorer off.
“It’s just a mom-mobile,” I would say, pushing the cart back to the store.
Flash forward 18 years and I’m now in Detroit, Michigan, far away from the rural Iowa community I grew up in. Danielle and I have talked about having kids and balancing a family with our careers. We want to pack up and see friends, or more of the country on an expedition, no pun intended. And as we prepare for the “next stage of life,” one vehicle runs valiantly across my mind – give you a hint – it’s not a horse.
The 2016 North American International Auto Show was the perfect venue to confront the Ford Explorer, which has bothered me for over twenty years. At NAIAS, I was able to get to the source in Craig Patterson, Ford Product Marketing Manager for the Explorer and Expedition. Before I met him, I was told his knowledge of the SUV business was so robust people referred to him as “Yoda.” Convinced, I set my schedule accordingly for my time with him at Press Preview. Patterson was either going to confirm my Explorer sightings over two decades were legitimate, or show me how they were figments of my overarching imagination.
Either way, I was getting an answer.
In full disclosure, I went into the interview thinking I was imagining all of it. The Ford Explorer’s appearance at pivotal times in my life – through an influential teacher and coach, working my first job, and falling in love with a beautiful girl and wanting to make a life with her – nothing more than pure happenstance.
I met Patterson at the Ford display at NAIAS. We shook hands and after some small talk, I knew I was not imagining it. The way he presented not only Ford SUVs, but the Explorer in particular; you don’t have that much passion for your work unless there is truth behind it. Without fully knowing my story, Patterson spoke as if he had the same deep down feeling for the Explorer, so much so, he made a career of it.
He showed me over to a beautiful Ford Explorer Platinum. According to Patterson, around 15 percent of Explorer customers come over from a luxury brand. One look at the Platinum and it’s not hard to see why. Before long, I was in the driver’s seat, while Patterson sat on the passenger side, validating twenty plus years of the Explorer making an appearance in my life.
“It was the Explorer that changed the game for us with the package space and room for your entire family and all of your gear. And when it was more car like than truck based, it really began the SUV revolution and spelled the end for the minivans,” Patterson explained.
When I graduated high school in 2000, the year we sold our minivan interestingly enough, SUVs accounted for approximately 20 percent of Ford’s total sales. Last year, SUVs represented 29.5 percent of Ford’s global sales. That explains why I saw more Explorers; I can logically grant that based on the numbers. However, while the sales are impressive, they do little to explain why I mirror the Ford Explorer with respectable people like Coach Fox, hardworking, dedicated families, like the ones I carried groceries out for, and now in my own life with Danielle.
“You might be going off-road or camping and that might be where the Explorer comes in. It might be taking on the city and finding all those farmer’s markets to be able to put together an ideal dinner. You might start in the city but go to the trails but you have that confidence. What customers told us was that they loved SUVs and they really wanted them. They didn’t want a minivan, even if they owned one previously. They were thinking about getting a jet ski or a boat; they wanted to be able to take their kids to college and put a trailer on the back. There is a sense of adventure in an SUV that never holds you back. It’s the one vehicle where you can take your family and have them experience the world with you. The Explorer, especially, gives them that imagery.” ~ Craig Patterson, Ford Product Marketing Manager, Explorer and Expedition
The last day of Press Preview, I wandered over to the Ford exhibit again. Since it was later, most had cleared out aside from a few sweeping the floors. I walked up to the Ford Explorer Platinum and opened the door. I sat in the driver’s seat, threw my bag on the passenger side, and put my hands on the wheel. I imagined, in vivid detail, driving up M-10 to my New Center home, with Danielle and our kids waiting.
I suppose I better stop at the store first; we probably need a few things. Danielle and I have been so busy lately, but it will be nice to get out of town this weekend . . . man this vehicle sure is quiet. I can really collect my thoughts in here. Maybe this is how Coach Fox felt after a long week of school work and practice? Funny, I still wear a necktie because the basketball team’s dress code required one.
A Fusion Titanium dethroned my once undying love for the F-150 and Mustang, but I sense a change coming. Looking back at where I have come from, I’m inclined to believe in a bright future; one full of adventure that I can share with those I love. For as long as I can remember, that’s the type of life I’ve always wanted to lead.
Perhaps that is the real reason why I continue to see the Ford Explorer everywhere?
*Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan.
Photos: Ford Motor Company