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Region-made Explorer sales fall by 4.3 percent in 2018

A Ford Explorer is driven off the assembly line at the assembly plant in Hegewisch. Explorer sales dropped by 4.3 percent last year.

Sales of the Calumet Region-made Ford Explorer dropped 4.3 percent in 2018 after plunging by 22.8 percent in December, marking the first annual decline in years for the popular SUV.

Ford's overall sales last month dropped by 8.8 percent to 220,774 units. For the year, Ford and Lincoln sales fell 3.5 percent to 2.49 million units.

The automaker reported that retail sales were down 4.8 percent in December while fleet sales fell by 19.5 percent. Transaction prices grew $1,600 year-over-year to $34,000 in December, compared to just a $470 increase for the overall industry.

That's largely because of the company's shift to higher-value, higher-margin pickup trucks and SUVs, a strategy that GM is now copying with Japanese automakers and electric vehicle-makers cornering the sedan market.

“December capped another strong year for Ford and the industry — Ford sold more than 900,000 F-Series trucks in 2018 to extend our leadership position to 42 consecutive years as America’s best-selling pickup," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. "Our commercial vans mark 40 straight years of leadership and we had a record year for Ford SUVs, all of which helped us post our ninth straight year as America’s best-selling brand.”

Locally, Ford makes the Explorer, the Taurus, the Police Interceptor Utility and the Police Interceptor Sedan at the Chicago Assembly Plant on the Calumet River in Hegewisch, which borders Hammond. The Taurus and Police Interceptor Sedan will be phased out this year and replaced with the Lincoln Aviator, as the automaker shifts its focus from cars to more lucrative trucks and SUVs.

In December, Ford sold 19,586 Explorers, as compared to 25,375 in December 2017. The SUV accounts for most of the production at the sprawling 2.8 million-square-foot Ford plant, which is serviced by local suppliers such as the Lear Corp. seat factory in Hammond.

Explorer sales ended the year by dropping 4.3 percent to 227,732 units sold, down from 238,056 in 2017,

Sales of the Taurus rose by 1.1 percent to 2,750 units in December, up from 2,719 units in December 2017, but Taurus sales finished 2018 down 13.6 percent in its last year of production at the Chicago Assembly Plant or anywhere else for that matter. Sales of the Police Interceptor Sedan, a souped-up version of the Taurus, fell by 7.7 percent last year, while the Police Interceptor Utility posted a 2.3 percent gain to 33,839 units sold in 2018.

Ford employs more than 5,000 workers at the Chicago Assembly Plant and at the Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.