[Chris Brewer Interview]
Interview with Chris Brewer, Ford Explorer Sport Trac Chief Engineer
is the chief engineer for Explorer and Explorer Sport Trac programs. He
sat down with Mike Magda to discuss the challenges and strategies associated
with designing the two vehicles side-by-side:
Speaking strictly from an engineer’s view, were there any compromises
made on the new Sport Trac that concerned your group?
No. We had the flexibility to do all the things we thought we needed to
do. We wouldn’t have a Sport Trac if we didn’t have the 4-door
Explorer, and it gave us the platform we needed to do what we feel is
a really fabulous Sport Trac.
Ford skipped a generation of the Explorer when offering the Sport Trac,
so the differences between the old and new Sport Trac are dramatic. How
did that thought play into any engineering or marketing plans?
It’s so much easier to demonstrate why the new Sport Trac is clearly
head and shoulders better than the old Sport Trac. A large part of our
future customers will be people who bought the prior Sport Trac. And we
think these prior customers will say this is everything I expected it
to be and more. It’s really a no-compromise product compared to
the previous generation and what the new generation needs to be.
Given the bad publicity from the previous generation, was that an underlying
motivation in giving this vehicle just about every feature available?
I wouldn’t say it’s a major motivating factor but you always
want to provide a better product to your customer. The 4-door Explorer
has also gotten publicity in terms of how safe is it. Quite frankly, we
think it’s one of the safest products we’ve ever built and
the 2006 Explorer is even safer than the prior model. The new Sport Trac
is based off the 4-door Explorer. We deliberately rolled across the all
the goodness of the 4-door Explorer in terms of safety technology to ensure
next generation Sport Trac customer got everything we had to offer.
Ford has been very aggressive on reducing noise in all trucks. But that
improvement sometimes comes with a weight penalty. How did you balance
weight with the demands of better fuel economy?
Fuel economy is a tough element to address. We’ve got comparable
fuel economy to the prior Sport Trac, but the vehicle is heavier because
we have a dramatically stiffer frame. That gives a lot of the goodness
we’ve been talking about. It enables us to make the vehicle quieter
yet handle better and meet crash requirements. Let me put it in perspective.
Weight matters in terms of fuel economy and a lot of other things as well.
As we get smarter about milking a little more out of the engine, more
out of the transmission, we then have an opportunity to spend a little
bit of weight on things that customers find value in. The beauty of reducing
noise is that every person in the vehicle appreciates it, not just the
The first Sport Trac was pretty much entry level and affordable ($21,910
MSRP for 4x2 in 2001, including destination). The new Sport Trac has so
many features that are standard. Was there any consideration of a bare-bones
model to get the price point down?
The good news is the starting price for the 2007 Sport Trac is the 2005
Sport Trac: $24,940 (including destination). Yet, you’re right.
We are offering a lot more feature content, including IRS, side air bags,
roll-stability control. If we were to price those, represent several hundred
dollars worth of content. So we think we have a great value story. So
we don’t think we have the need to decontent the vehicle to make
it more affordable.
Sport Trac has a high percentage of female buyers. How did that figure
into your engineering plans?
We love all our buyers. When the 2001 Sport Trac came out, it was one
of the better riding, quieter, more stylish looking vehicles in the compact
pickup market. There weren’t a lot of compact 4-door pickups at
that point. There are a lot more now so you have to be that much better
to stand out from the crowd. From an appearance prospective, we’ve
built on the strengths of the prior product and done even better. Because
the vehicle looks good, is comfortable to drive and isn’t too large,
that appeals to a lot of women.
But when you were setting up the original parameters for suspension tuning,
was there a consideration to lean towards a Lincoln-Mercury spec instead
of a Ford spec to appeal more to women?
We don’t have a bias in terms of Lincoln-Mercury wants this or Ford
wants that. We do for Lincoln products but this is clearly a Ford product.
It’s possible a Mercury branded product would want to be turned
different but we don’t see that happening with Sport Trac right
With the increased popularity of compact crew cab pickups, was there a
consideration of building a unibody Sport Trac to be special and different?
We didn’t entertain it and the reason why is that the versatility
of body-on-frame construction gives you true truck attributes that you
can’t get with unibody. You can’t tow the same weight and
can’t get the same rugged durability. You can’t put a full
load in it, beat the heck out of it and still provide the level of refinement.
Body on frame has got an inherent advantage over unibody in that you have
an extra level of isolation between the body and chassis. The last part
is, to do a unibody and do a pickup is a tough challenge. You have to
join the box, which wants to be independent. You need to put some significant
buttressing behind the rear door and the box. It can be done but you end
up with some appearance compromises that we weren’t willing to make.
The product we’re coming out with is very visually appealing yet
can function as a personal use truck.
Now that SVT has shelved plans for the Andrenalin Sport Trac, does that
open up opportunities for you to offer special editions as a mid-cycle
We’re never going to rule anything out. We are looking hard at some
of the key bits of hardware that SVT was looking at and we may do something
with that in the future. We’re not supposed to talk about future
product, so we’re looking at what they were doing because they’re
pretty smart guys.
But one could say there’s a need now for someone to step up and
so something special with the Sport Trac.
And I agree it’s something we do look hard at. The good news is
we have a V8 engine for the first time. It’s not quite as juiced
up as an SVT version would be, but I want to say a V8 will stave off the
mid-life crisis for a little bit longer than otherwise. The SVT guys certainly
have a lot of good ideas and if there’s something we can take advantage
of we’ll look at it.
 [Chris Brewer Interview]