Ford confirms new hybrid Explorer for police; is this how SUV buyers will embrace hybrids?


New Ford Police Interceptor

New Ford Police Interceptor

Police work may be ideal proving grounds to convince skeptical shoppers that hybrids can consistently perform when duty calls. Despite skepticism from some that electrification could add complexity and maintenance costs to large fleets, Ford confirmed Tuesday that its next-generation Police Interceptor Utility (based on the next-generation Explorer) will have a standard hybrid powertrain when it goes on sale next summer.

Already this year, Ford confirmed that the Explorer—and all its new utility vehicles—would be available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or both as part of a wide-reaching announcement toward more electrified vehicles.

The automaker also laid out ambitious plans in January to introduce six new electrified models by 2022 starting next year, which is when the new Explorer is due. 

MORE: Cars out at Ford, small crossovers and SUVs left to take up efficiency banner

The new Explorer will ride atop a new rear-wheel-drive-biased architecture that will underpin other vehicles in the automaker's lineup, including the new Lincoln Aviator (already confirmed as a plug-in hybrid).

But for big SUV buyers, whose concerns for fuel economy in new utility vehicles falls somewhere between "nearly nonexistent" to "nonexistent," opting in for hybrid technology could be a big ask.

According to Ford, the hybrid powertrain should improve fuel economy in the Police Interceptor Utility by nearly 40 percent compared to the outgoing V-6 version and manage 24 mpg combined. That may not directly translate to civilian Explorers when they go on sale next summer, but any electrification is likely to help the current Explorer's 18 to 22 mpg combined rating. Ford said equipped with a hybrid powertrain and 3.7-liter V-6, the new Police Interceptor Utility should manage 24 mpg combined.

Those fuel economy gains may not matter much. But similar to the way Ford marketed its switch to aluminum-intensive construction in the current F-150 as "military grade," proving its battery tech in the high-stakes police market may give the automaker a foothold with buyers who are skeptical of electrification.

MUST READ: Ford's future hybrid, electric-car lineup: 5 things to know

A Ford spokesman didn't specifically comment Tuesday on how the automaker would market hybrids to SUV buyers. Earlier this year, Ford intimated that its hybrids wouldn't be sold specifically as fuel misers, rather it would offer those powertrains as "premium" offerings with a collateral benefit of better fuel economy.

New Ford Police Interceptor

New Ford Police Interceptor

Fleet buyers are notoriously finicky about operating costs, expected life, and maintenance when it comes to large-scale purchases. The additional complexity of a plug-in powertrain may not be welcomed with open arms, but Ford could assuage those concerns in other ways.

Already fleet buyers, including the New York Police Department, have said that experience with other hybrid vehicles including Nissan Altima hybrid models has shown that those cars save on operating costs with longer brake life, fewer oil changes, and fuel savings. Ford announced last year that its Fusion-based Interceptor would be available as a hybrid, and that it was well-received by some large departments.

All of those may build up a knowledge base for Ford and a sturdier platform to sell large SUV buyers on the idea that if hybrids are good enough for police, they're good enough for average buyers.

We'll know more when the new Explorer, and potentially its hybrid powertrain, go on sale next year.

 
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