Ford Rides 2011 Explorer Splash

New car introductions are no longer confined to the auto shows: now, they involve Facebook and Herald Square events.
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) -- Let's just say that Monday, July 26 was "Explorer Day."

That is certainly the view of


(F) - Get Report

, which introduced the new vehicle at events in nine cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and Dearborn, Mich., as well as on




Video: New Explorer Bite Out of 'One Ford' Plan >>

"It was a huge, unorthodox rollout," said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Automotive. Historically, new vehicles have been

introduced at auto shows

. "Companies are looking for different, non-traditional ways -- tapping into social media can make a great splash."

In New York,

rock star CEO Alan Mulally

introduced the Explorer with a grand entrance, driving down a dirt hill that Ford had constructed at Midtown's Herald Square. As usual, reporters swarmed around him during a media conference.

Last week, Ford

reported its best quarter in six years

, partially because America has embraced the story of how a smart leader can turn around an iconic company without bailouts.

Lindland noted that a second unorthodox element to the Explorer rollout is that the vehicle is not yet on sale -- it won't be until December. In fact, Ford is still selling the predecessor model. "It's unusual to roll out the new generation of an existing product while you are still selling the old one," said Lindland. "You run the risk of having people say 'I will wait for the new one.'"

Explorer is an important piece of Ford's legacy. In the peak year of 2000, Ford sold 445,157 Explorers. But the allure of the big, truck-based vehicles has lessened, so much so that 2009 sales slumped to 52,190. The new version, depending on engine selection, will have fuel efficiency that is as much as 30% better than the old model's and its base price of $28,190 will be $1,000 less.

Of course, it is not just Ford that has made new vehicles into media events. Today, GM is announcing pricing and ordering details for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt at a made-to-order event, the "Plug-In 2010 conference," in San Jose, Calif. Earlier this month, President Obama visited the Volt battery plant in Holland, Mich. Even more than the Explorer, the battery-powered Volt has the potential to change the automobile business.

"The exciting thing is that the products are there," Lindland said. "These are some of the best products Ford and GM have ever put out, and they really believe in them."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. and Andrea Tse in New York.


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