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Chicago Assembly Plant to make Explorer ST and Explorer Hybrid models

The Chicago Assembly Plant will start making the Ford Explorer Hybrid, pictured above, in the second quarter of 2019.

The Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch will start producing the new 2020 Explorer in the second quarter of this year, including the all-new Explorer ST and Explorer Hybrid.

Ford unveiled the new vehicles at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opened Monday, and they're expected to hit dealerships this summer.

Ford describes the 2020 Explorer ST as "the fastest Explorer ever." It is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that produces 400 horsepower and tops out at 143 mph. The 2020 Explorer Hybrid is an electric hybrid that only needs to be filled up every 500 miles and boasts a 3.3-liter engine that generates 312 horsepower and 336 lb.-ft of torque.

Ford SUV Marketing Manager Craig Patterson said both vehicles use the new Explorer design, with rear-wheel drive architecture, shorter overhangs and better handling.

The new ST, or Sports Technology, model replaces the Explorer Sport, which has been phased out. Before that souped-up engine that beat an $84,000 Range Rover in one track race, the Explorer ST has design features like a blackout grill and blackout wheels.

"You might be familiar with the Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta ST cars," he said. "Now we're delivering that sort of performance to SUVs as customers generally shift from cars to SUVs. Whether you're making a run to Home Depot or going off road, it has higher performance and better handling."

Patterson estimates the Explorer ST will account for around 15 percent of all Explorer sales. Sales of the Explorer hybrid will be "highly variable by geography."

"It may only be 5 percent of the sales nationwide, but it will be closer to 20 percent in markets like California, Seattle, and New York," he said.

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Gas mileage is still being tested, but Patterson said the range should be at least 500 miles since the SUV will operate entirely on electric power when being driven under 30 mph to 35 mph.

"Busy parents don't want to stop at the gas stations two or three times a week," Patterson said. "Customers want more fuel-efficient options. Gas prices are low right now, but it could go the other way at any time."

Ford said the base 2020 Explorer model will only be $400 more expensive* than the current one. Prices will soon be released for the ST, Hybrid, Platinum and other variations.

Dealerships should start taking preorders as soon as March.

The vehicles will be produced by more than 5,000 local auto workers at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewish and the Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights.

Lear, a major first-tier supplier for Ford, employs around 900 workers just across the border in Northwest Indiana to make seats for the Explorer.

*This has been changed from the original.

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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.