Within the next three years, future models of the Explorer will achieve unprecedented levels of fuel economy via concept car technology, which automatically shuts the engine off when the vehicle is stationary, Ford said this week.

A system called an 'integrated starter-generator' (or ISG), already seen on the Honda Insight, will allow the engine to automatically shut off when the Explorer is stationary (e.g. at traffic lights) and immediately start again when the need for power is anticipated. The transition from stop to start will be completely transparent to the driver. This feature will help the vehicle achieve fuel economy unprecedented in an SUV and pave the way for future green technologies.

Originally shown in Ford's P2000 HEV concept car, this technology will debut in the Explorer soon after the recently announced Maverick hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is introduced in 2003.

However, unlike the HEV - a full hybrid that will combine an electric motor and 4-cylinder petrol engine - the ISG-equipped Explorer will rely on an efficient V6 petrol engine with electric assist. The integrated starter-generator replaces both the conventional starter and alternator and integrates starting and generating in a single electric unit.

"The fuel-efficient technology in the Explorer will continue our commitment to developing the most capable and advanced SUVs on the planet," said Gurminder Bedi, vice president, Ford Truck. "The fuel economy gains we will achieve with this technology will set new standards for SUVs without sacrificing the capabilities customers expect."

Alongside the ISG system, the Explorer will feature a regenerative braking system and a more powerful electrical system, delivering 42 volts rather than the standard 12 volts. The regenerative braking system captures energy generated from the braking system to help recharge the vehicle's 42-volt battery - which in turn provides the engine with an acceleration boost at start-up. A smaller 12-volt battery will be used to power standby items such as hazard warning indicators, lights and audio system.

The 42-volt electrical system will also allow the vehicle to satisfy customer demands for improved comfort and convenience items, such as more versatile higher voltage AC power outlets instead of today's 12V 'cigarette lighter' plugs.

The system also paves the way for high-efficiency technologies such as energy-efficient, electro-mechanical valve train actuation, electric superchargers and advanced active suspension systems. For example, with electronically actuated valves, valve timing could be easily varied under computer control, enabling more horsepower from a smaller displacement engine that runs considerably cleaner.