Can a New Ford Expedition Challenge GM’s Full-Size SUV Dominance?

On Tuesday, Ford Motor Company unveiled the all-new, fourth-generation 2018 Ford Expedition outside the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

But does the Expedition matter?

With the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe plus GMC’s Yukon and Yukon XL — setting aside the degree to which the Cadillac Escalade crushes the Lincoln Navigator — General Motors owns 75 percent of America’s full-size, body-on-frame, truck-based SUV market.

Seventy-five per cent.


Not just a plurality, but a majority. An overwhelming majority.

Yet in 2016, the tenth year of the third-generation Expedition’s tenure, sales rose to a nine-year high of 59,835 units. And Ford accomplished that feat with a very old SUV that lacks even the availability of adaptive cruise control or auto high beams, among other items found on inexpensive Kias. Ford produced that nine-year high with a very old SUV that had to take the fight to far newer GMT K2XX behemoths.

What might a brand new Ford Expedition accomplish? Could GM’s market share in the category fall below 50 percent? Is a 10-point drop to 65 percent a more reasonable goal for Dearborn? Or does Ford continue to fail at converting F-Series pickup dominance into class-leading full-size SUV demand?

The official line from Ford: “Ultimately, customers will decide how many we’ll sell,” sales analyst Erich Merkle told me after the new Expedition’s debut.

Customers will want more.

Sales in the category rose 22% to 340,530 units in 2016, with slightly less than 18 percent coming from the Expedition (including the EL, known from here on out as the Max) and another 8 percent from the Toyota Sequoia and surging Nissan Armada.

By historical standards, that’s a low number. 15 years ago, the category produced 767,000 sales, more than double last year’s output. GM owned 66 percent of the segment in 2002.

The 767,000-unit result is not going to happen again, even with an expected boost from the Expedition, which generated more than 163,000 sales in 2002 when the Expedition was America’s sixth-best-selling SUV overall. There are far too many alternatives now, including big unibodies and ever-more family-friendly crew cab pickups.

But if fuel prices remain tolerable, we can expect even more growth from General Motors’ biggest SUVs and an Expedition surge. Will the 2018 Expedition be the full-size Ford SUV that finally knocks GM off its perch, a perch that resulted in better than 70 percent market share in each of the last six years?

Or is Ford forever doomed to collect meaningful profits — and trivial market share — in an arena controlled by its chief rival?