Last week United Auto Workers union chairman Bill Johnson told The Detroit Free Press that a Ranger and Bronco would soon be made in Michigan. As a result, folks got all riled up over the idea of a hypothetical retro-futuristic off-roader and it’s still trending, like six days later!
We’ve been hearing that these nameplates were making a comeback in America “almost definitely” for over a year now, but I do believe Johnson’s quote in Freep is the most definitive:
“We hate to see the products go to Mexico, but with the Ranger and the Bronco coming to Michigan Assembly that absolutely secures the future for our people a lot more than the Focus does,” Johnson said, in response to comments from the Republican Party’s presidential candidate accusing Ford of egregious outsourcing.
I don’t think Ford’s planning on axing the Focus any time soon, but Johnson’s probably not wrong about trucks being a more “secure” bet for longterm work. Even though Focus is the second-best selling Ford car in 2016 so far, the company’s trucks and SUVs are blowing it out of the water according to Ford’s own reports.
So taking Johnson at his word, we now know that the Ford Ranger (pickup) and Bronco (SUV) will be built in the United States, again, in the relatively near future.
Why did the Ranger and Bronco ever leave?
Ford stopped building the Ranger in and for the United States because the profit margins on larger trucks (F-Series) were so much meatier. Some say that demand for the American mid-sized pickups dropped off, but I think that’s bogus. So did Ford’s current truck communications chief Mike Levine back when he was still a journalist around the time of the Ranger’s demise, by the way.
Had the company put in half as much effort updating the U.S.-market Ranger as they did marketing the F-150, the truck would have probably been even more popular through the 2010's and might still be with us here today as it is in other countries– a mid-sized pickup comparable with the Chevy Colorado, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.
But when it comes to Bronco I’m a lot more inclined to believe that demand really did disappear organically. The “OJ-style Bronco” as it became infamously known was a piece of shit that rode rough, drank gas stations dry, and offered exactly nothing you couldn’t get a better version of from another automaker by the time its production run was canceled. The Jeep Wrangler was a superior small off-roader, the Chevy Tahoe was a more practical SUV. Bronco died in the valley of uselessness in between.
Why are they coming back now?
Since all the news we’re getting about these vehicles seems to be coming from the UAW, it looks a little like the trucks are coming back to keep Ford’s auto manufacturing union happy. But as Johnson said trucks and SUVs are, generally, more popular than cars right now. Tired as you might be of hearing about that as a “trend” it really doesn’t seem like it’s going away.
Let’s check the scoreboard– the Toyota Tacoma is hanging out at about 140,000 sales this year so far. The Chevy Colorado and its mechanical twin the GMC Canyon are at about 107,000 combined over the same nine months. Those are strong numbers in a time when a “people’s car” like the Chevy Sonic is at 41,000 sales and Toyota Sienna just over 100,000.
Of course those stats are pittances compared to full-size truck sales (Silverado alone is over 400,000 2016 sales now) yet decent chunks of their respective lineups, and probably more importantly, cheap to make.
Since Ford still builds the Ranger internationally, meaning they already have a viable platform for it (and an SUV) tried and tested, the company’s in an excellent position to make a heap of money off of it here.
We get it– Americans like trucks and SUVs. Why these two in particular?
Nostalgia, of course! Does it have to be any more complicated?
Unfortunately in this case that nostalgia is misplaced. Happens more often than you’d think.
The Ranger is lauded on your uncle’s Facebook feed and everywhere internet comments are found because it’s remembered by many as the last “honest” pickup.
It was inexpensive to buy, cheap to maintain, simple in design and operation and almost completely without pretense. You could hit fuel economy numbers today’s F-150s need ten forward gears to stretch for without breaking a sweat and easily park in the garage attached to your house. Heck I never even owned one and I miss it too!
The idea of a truly utilitarian truck you could buy on a lawn mower’s budget is appealing, especially now that pickup trucks are leaving lots with massaging seats and panoramic sunroofs for the price of a decent house in Detroit.
As for the Bronco it is, or rather it was, the confluence of America’s two favorite vehicles– the jeep and the muscle car. The Bronco pretty much plummeted in coolness as soon as it was significantly revised for the first time, but that original body style is the perfect pile of Americana. A little bit of bad boy, a little hungry for adventure. And somehow still perfect for a Norman Rockwell painting.
That’s exciting! Why aren’t you excited?
Get your oven mitts because here comes a hot take– the Ranger you’re remembering is not the one you’re going to be able to buy if and when it comes back to American Ford dealerships. And the Bronco, yeah, no, not even close.
The Ranger will be re-introduced as a premium-trim 4WD crew-cab with a tiny bed and medium-sized V6 engine. More basic smaller-cab variants will be hot on its heels but nothing as lean as the clapped-out junk hauler you remember your grandpa having will be part of the lineup.
Oh yeah, and it will also be about the size F-150s were when the old Ranger was around.
Ford reps will answer complaints about the bloating with citations of improved safety and driver experience, which will be good and valid points. But in the next investor’s report they’ll brag about the real driver: higher transaction prices.
A market may well exist for truly cheap work trucks, but why would Ford mess with it if they can make more money selling short-bed crew cabs with headed seats and infotainment?
As for the Bronco, we’ve discussed the fact that Ford already has an SUV based on the current (T6) Ranger platform, and even though both it (known as the Everest) and Ranger will probably be ready for a refresh by the time they’re supposed to hit the U.S. market (around 2020) the two have been paired for years.
And there’s also the fact that the Everest is something Ford dealers could easily sell, while the futuristic two-door off-roader idea a la Toyota FJ Cruiser would require its own development and marketing at substantial risk.
Is life even worth living without a badass Bronco to look forward to?
Sure! The longer it takes the better, really. More opportunities for me to rile up you readers and tear down the optimistic renders that send in. If you love the Bronco so much, just buy an old one. Or a new Jeep Wrangler.
That said, it’d be cool if I’m wrong.