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Out of Gas

Ford's fuel-guzzling Excursion reaches end of line

By Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

As gasoline prices hover near record highs and the company's chairman outlines a greener future, the last Excursion will roll off Ford Motor Co.'s assembly line in Louisville today -- marking the end for the gas-guzzling behemoth of an SUV that, for many, came to symbolize Detroit's excesses.

The Excursion debuted in 2000. Ford sold more than 50,000 that year, but sales have slid ever since.

The company only moved 20,000 last year.

For environmentalists, the 19-foot-long SUV built on a heavy-duty truck frame exemplified the worst of sport utility vehicles. It was too big to fit in some car washes. It boasted a 44-gallon fuel tank. And, equipped with a V-10, it barely got 12 miles to the gallon, prompting some environmentalists to rename it the "Ford Valdez" after Exxon's ill-fated oil tanker.

"The fact that (Ford) realized the Valdez is not the way the market is going is another good sign," said Brendan Bell, a vehicle analyst with the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C., who also praised Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr.'s recent announcement that Ford will produce more hybrid vehicles. "We hope this is another sign that Ford is moving in the right direction. They need to be building vehicles that are more like the hybrid Escape and less like the Valdez."

But not everyone is happy to see the end of the Excursion.

Jerry Reynolds, who owns a Ford dealership just outside Dallas, said Excursions have always been a strong seller on his lot.

"We've actually had a little run on them this summer -- after people heard they were going away," Reynolds said. He asked Ford to send him all it could for his final allocation, but still only got 10 vehicles. He has two left.

"I hate to see it go," he said, adding that his attachment to the enormous vehicle is more than professional. "I've got a boat I carry pretty regularly."

Reynolds said he could haul his boat with one of Ford's heavy-duty pickups, but not if he wanted to pile friends in the back seat and let them enjoy the ride. It is just such circumstances -- and not a love of the large alone -- that impels most Excursion purchases, he said.

"There's always a story behind an Excursion customer, and it's always got something to do with hauling," Reynolds said. "Those people are still out there."

Ford recognizes that and has promised dealers like Reynolds that it will fill that niche in the company's product line-up.

"We've been hoping for some time that there may be a stretch model Expedition and Navigator," he said. While such vehicles would lack the pulling power of the Excursion diesel, Reynolds believes they would appeal to a broader segment of the SUV market and offer a more compelling challenge to the Chevrolet Suburban.

"I totally understand why it's got to go away," he said, noting that every Excursion Ford makes means one less F-350 pickup. And those are much stronger sellers in parts of the country that do not share Texas' appreciation for all things big. "It's just a business decision."

George Magliano, director of automotive research for Global Insight Inc., cautioned against reading too much into Ford's decision, .

"Ford realized about a year into the Excursion that they'd pushed the limits of size," Magliano said. "I don't think anybody's going to go that big anymore."

Even Reynolds acknowledges that some of that criticism was justified. The first Excursion he ever sold came back to the dealership the next day after the woman who bought it peeled the roof half off trying to put it in her garage the first time.

"It was a horrible mess," Reynolds recalled.
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