Ford upgrades Explorer just as SUV boom accelerates

Justin Solomon | CNBC

In a move that will allow Ford to cash in on America's rediscovered love of large SUV's, the automaker is rolling out a re-designed Explorer that includes a new option. Ford will sell a high-end platinum edition of the Explorer.

While Ford has yet to announce pricing on the re-designed SUV that will hit showrooms next year, don't be surprised if platinum versions of the Explorer eventually sell for well over $50,000.

"There is a lot of demand by our customers for a premium version of the Explorer," said Matt Zuehlk, Explorer brand manager.

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Platinum versions of the Explorer will come with the most advanced tech package and refinement that will include Nirvana leather throughout the SUV.

Ford's move with the Explorer follows the success Jeep enjoyed with the Summit edition of the Grand Cherokee, which starts for $48,595 and the GMC Yukon Denali which starts at $63,770.

The surge in demand for premium edition full-size SUV's has pushed the average transaction price for large sport utility vehicles to $48,137 according to Truecar.com.

Ford Explorer unveil
Ford Explorer unveil   

That's an increase of 6.8 percent compared to the same time a year ago. By comparison, Truecar says average transaction prices for all vehicles sold in October were up just 1.1 percent.

"I'm not surprised Ford is pushing the upper end with the Explorer," said Scott Oldham with Edmunds,com. "That's where the profits are right now in large SUV's"

Large SUV's surging as gas prices plunge

A major factor behind the resurgence in full-size SUV's has been the drop in gas prices. The national average is $2.87 a gallon with 36 states selling gas for under $3 a gallon, according to AAA.

Read MoreLarge SUVs register big gains as gas prices fall

With gas prices falling to a four-year low, while unemployment has dropped under six percent, many Americans have the confidence to not only buy a new vehicle, but to make it a full-size SUV.

"The truth is, full-size SUV's never died," said Zuehlk. "But with lower gas prices and the improved fuel economy many are getting with newer engines, people are saying this is what I want to drive."

Ford CEO on F-150 launch
Ford CEO on F-150 launch   

The new Explorer will feature a 2.3-liter ecoboost engine. Mileage estimates for the SUV won't be released until the middle of next year when Ford is closer to starting sales of the model.

But already, SUV's have become far more fuel efficient compared with ten years ago. For example, the best mileage of the current 2015 Explorer SUV's is 20 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway. In 2005, the most fuel efficient Explorer models delivered 14 and 19 miles per gallon respectively.

Upscale SUV's in demand

In many ways, Ford's decision to offer a platinum edition of the Explorer is simply trying to catch up with a market where many customers have decided they not only want the utility offered by a full-size SUV, they also want luxury.

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In fact, luxury SUV sales this year are up 11.8 percent, more than double auto sales as a while which are up 5.5 percent this year according to the research firm Autodata.

The BMW X3 has seen sales climb 25.9 percent.

The Mercedes Benz GLK is up 18.9 percent

No wonder Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer is eagerly anticipating the launch of the first Bentley in SUV in two years. Durheimer says the average Bentley customer owns 8 vehicles and two of them are usually SUV's.

Durheimer says Bentley is intent in being the next high-end SUV his customers buy. "Around the world there is great demand and it will be a revolutionary product. We are going to rock the SUV market," he said confidently.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.