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The History of the First Ford Explorer - by Derek Elliot former Ford engineer


Pumpkin Pilot
Staff member
Elite Explorer
February 8, 1999
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City, State
Wayoutin, Aridzona
Year, Model & Trim Level
'93 XL Pumpkin Edition
The UN46 - Explorer Program
(NAAO) North American Automotive Operations

The UN46 project started in 1986 with two engineers and one product planner.

  • Chassis & Driveline Engineering - Bill Gillies​
  • Body & Electrical Engineering - Derek Elliott​
  • Light Truck Product Planning - Steve Ross​
The program started out with two styling/engineering concepts being molded in NAD, North American Design (styling studios).

  • Side 'A' of the full size clay model represented an extended version of the current Bronco II with four doors - it was designated the Louisville concept because the Bronco II was built in the Louisville, Kentucky assembly plant. (50% of the components were C/O Bronco II)​
  • Side 'B' of the same clay model represented a four door vehicle with limo doors & all new sheet metal (other than) the hood assembly & radiator support assembly.​
  • Side 'A' was a want from the financial division & the manufacturing division ( a low cost low risk vehicle that would replace the current Bronco II build at Louisville.​
  • Side 'B' was favored by FD (Ford Division), LTEO (Light Truck Engineering Operations), BEO (Body and Electrical Operations), and NAD styling ( it gave the space to improve the aesthetics of the vehicle) B&AO ( Body and Assembly Operations) and most of the remaining design & development activities.​
  • We started out with a dual program (designing for feasibility both sides of the clay model)​
  • Following two months of styling & engineering the CEO (of Ford Motor Co (Red Poling), the Vice President of NARO (Lou Ross), Steve Ross's father &the Vice President of Ford Division & Marketing, reviewed the styling themes asking each engineering division for further input, BEO had the largest portion of engineering dollars investment. With no financial return, (we were a liability to the program, because we didn't produce anything that could be sold), i.e. All we could offer the program were engineering papers & drawings, & you can not see drawings etc: I was asked by the brass, was it possible to reduce engineering and design costs. I explained to the company directors that BEO costs were based upon CAD, Computer Aided Design & CAM, Computer Aided Machining& we were at the optimum cost levels for body engineering.​
  • At that point it was decided to cancel theme 'A' and to commit our resources t theme 'B' with the objective of having the design & manufacturing carried out in Brazil.​
  • Paranga in Sao Paulo was to be the assembly plant & Ford Brazil SA would engineer the vehicle with a NAAO team to be on site in Sao Paulo until Job #1 +60 days. I would be there to represent BEO which has approx 75%of the vehicles design/engineering content.​
  • Within two weeks of the above decision I was asked to go to Brazil & report on their ability to carry out the design /engineering of all the 52 sub systems that BEO was responsible for.​
  • After a full week at Ford Brazil I came to the conclusion that they did not have the technical expertise to do the job. No CAD or R&D capabilities, research and development.​
  • Planning & Light Truck Operations came down to Brazil the following week & confirmed my conclusions. Brazil was eliminated for the UN46 program. Costs as well as engineering were also a major factor, off shore costs, shipping & design, durability & testing were all too far away for comfort from a program management point of view.​
  • On getting back from Brazil I was told to go to Europe to see if they could accomplish the task. I went to EAO (European Automotive Operations) in England & Cologne, Germany & they were certainly equipped to do the engineering, but they (EAO & NAAO) wanted the vehicle to be assembled in Valencia (Southeast) Spain. So once more back on the aircraft & Spain. Ford of Spain was building the Fiesta Sedan. After a few days there the NAAO team decided that once more costs were far too high for the profit margin objective. With EAO out of the picture we now came back to the U.S.A. & Louisville assembly plant. The governor of Kentucky promised to provide $30 million for service roads and improved infrastructure if Ford would keep the UN46 in Lousiville for improved employment in the area. That was enough for Ford's CEO to say yes to a USA designed & built vehicle. "We could have lost it"

    • The FPV (Financial Planning Volume) objective was 250,000 units per year over a 10 year cycle. From the projected FPV the profit margin goal was set.​
    • After all the financial & political mess had been sorted out we could now start the task we had been trained for, design engineering, safety, durability & meet FMVSS, (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) for certification and sign off by our legal office.​
    • Back in Dearborn we got to work with the HAD to get the clay model to a point of feasibility that satisfied styling & all BMDs, (Basic Manufacturing Divisions) as well as outside suppliers.​
    • Once the clay model is fully feasible we have reached the first mile stone. The model is then scanned electronically providing engineering with the vehicles outside shape.​
    • At clay approval you are telling top executives that you are an an 80% confidence level that can build the UN46 at a given production rate (84 per hour) by the Job #1 date, and that date is set in concrete.​
    • My task now was to ensure that we could meet both the timing and feasibility through to Job #1 i.e.​
    • Prove out the vehicle ergonomics
    • Package the driveline, engine & suspension
    • Make sure that the vehicles structure will meet both safety & durability requirements.
    • keep the styling theme on track
    • meet all European standards for export units
    • Design/Engineer into the UN46 all safety requirements i.e. restraints both passive & active.
    • Build prototypes in line with PERT timing objective PERT (Program Evaluation & Research Techs)
    • meet the Job #1 timing - less excuses
    • Maintain program cost objectives
    • After 18 months into the program the following changes were asked for by management:​
    • Generate a two door sports model
    • Meet 2 1/2 MPH bumper impact without damaging any sheetmetal skin. At 2 1/2 MPH the bumper deflected .75"
    • Mazda Corp. wants a two door sport vehicle restyled to Mazda's image.
    • We met with Mazda management in LA & worked out how we could meet Mazda's wants without upsetting the UN46 program.​
    • We made Job #1 for both the Explorer & the Mazda Navajo at a build rate of 84 units per hour, instead of meeting the objective FPV of 250,000 units per year we have built over 400,000 units since 1990.​
    • Prior to Job #1 I was told I had caner of the lung which put me out of action for 6 months.​
    • 1995 UPN - (Utility & Pickup of North American Operations)​
    • Major facelift to the body styling​
    • Add SLA front suspension (short arm - long arm) & delete the I beam front suspension.​
    • Redesign the Ranger wit ha major facelift​
    • Per Mr. Trottman our new CEO replacing Red Poling he wanted the 302 V8 packaged in the Explorer design & design a new cargo box for the Ranger Sports Pickup​
    • And so we start all over again, but this time we had to have all of the engineering done & go to Job #1 in less than 36 months from clay approval.

  • Derek Elliott



Pumpkin Pilot
Staff member
Elite Explorer
February 8, 1999
Reaction score
City, State
Wayoutin, Aridzona
Year, Model & Trim Level
'93 XL Pumpkin Edition
Derek Elliott sent this information to me many years ago to ensure that his role in the program would not be forgotten.


Elite Explorer
July 12, 2015
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1999 ford explorer sohc
Cool great info this is probably ONE of the best places to share this information


Flood Season
Staff member
August 3, 2000
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B2 "Slightly" Modified
THIS IS COOL AS CRAP!! Should be a sticky so its never lost

Wish I could find similar info for the Ranger and BII back in 1982-83
Recently found a 1983 Ranger was built only 2 months after production started. I keep hoping someday to find something rare like Bronco II #1 or Ranger #1, or explorer number 1!!!!!!!!!

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