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Ford will introduce updated Explorer SUV at Los Angeles Auto Show

 Ford Explorer
Workers inspect 2015 Ford Explorer, right, as it rolls off the assembly line at the Chicago Ford Assembly Plant in Chicago. Ford plans big changes for the 2016 model.
(M. Spencer Green / Associated Press)

Ford Motor Co. will debut an updated version of its Explorer sport-utility vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

The refreshed SUV will go on sale next year as a 2016 model.

The automaker isn’t providing many details except to say the Explorer will get new styling and additional driver-assist technology. Car companies are starting to equip vehicles with high technology safety systems that use sensors to prevent front-end collisions, alert drivers to hazards when backing up and keep drivers from drifting out of their lanes.

Ford is on track to sell more than 200,000 Explorers in the U.S. this year, the most since 2005, during the boom years for the model. The Dearborn, Mich., automaker has sold nearly 7 million since it debuted in 1990 and cemented the SUV segment in the consumer market.

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The model is the best-selling midsize SUV but faces increasing competition from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. Volkswagen, Chevrolet and Chrysler all plan new models for the same segment in the coming years, making the competition even tougher, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst for IHS Automotive.

The Explorer, which seats seven, slots into a Ford SUV lineup that includes the massive Expedition, the five-seat Edge and compact Escape.

The update builds on what is Ford’s fifth-generation Explorer. The current model was introduced four years ago and marked a change from the boxy, traditional SUV look built onto a truck frame to the current crossover style of SUV, which uses the same unibody construction process employed in building passenger cars.

The current model could use some improvements, said Jake Fisher, the automotive test director for Consumer Reports.

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The Explorer lags rivals in both visibility from inside the cabin and lacks the “roominess’ of other mid-sized SUVs, he said.

Fisher also said that Ford needs to upgrade both the Explorer’s powertrain and fuel economy.

Ford is bullish on the sport-utility market.  The automaker said its utility vehicles accounted for 23% of the brand’s global sales in 2013, up from 17%. By the end of the decade, Ford projects utility vehicles will make up 29% of its global sales.

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