“I’m gonna patch you in and ... do some introductions” were a Ford representative’s first words in a surprise call to me last week. Seconds later, I found myself in a teleconference with Jeff Marentic, the company’s General Manager for Passenger Vehicles and with Mark Grueber, the Brand Manager for the Ford Bronco. I had no idea what this discussion was to be about, and it took a while before I figured it out: Ford wants me to tell you, dear readers, that it knows it screwed up with the Bronco hard tops, it’s embarrassed, and it’s trying to make things right.
“Call you in 10 minutes couple key guys to talk bronco,” read a cryptic text message from Ford yesterday after a company rep left a voicemail saying he wanted to “catch up with [me] on some news [Ford is making] on Bronco.” I wasn’t really sure what this meant, but I rolled with it.
Shortly after receiving the call, I could sense a somber tone. It was apparent that Ford was being very careful with its messaging on whatever this topic was, because the call was clearly well rehearsed — more so than other PR correspondence I’ve experienced. This wasn’t going to be an exciting announcement of a new car or feature, that much was obvious; something was afoot.
“I’m going to let Mark ... help you understand what we’re doing from a customer satisfaction and customer experience actions to try to make this as right as we can with our customers” Marentic told me. “We remain committed to deliver for these customers, and the most important thing is to get this right and reward them for their patience.”
At this point, I was still a bit unsure what this was all about, but I gathered that customers were having issues with the Bronco, a vehicle that I knew had been suffering production delays and early quality woes.
From there, Ford’s rep talked about how the company has sold 3,000 vehicles through July, how Ford is still building and selling Broncos right now (including four-door soft tops), and about how Ford received 200,000 reservations for the Bronco, with 125,000 having been converted to orders. Seventy percent of those, the Ford rep told me, came from people who weren’t prior Ford owners. Ford knows how big of a deal this vehicle is.
Then came some clarity.
“One of the primary challenges and why we’re talking this morning is: Ramping up hardtop production with our supplier partner Webasto has been a bit more challenging. We’re still not where we need to be on volume and quality on the two and four-door hardtops.”
“Embarrassed to say, but we did catch this early, and we’re doing the right thing. During pre-delivery inspections, we found out that these molded-in-color hardtop roofs didn’t meet our standards,” Marentic continued before making it clear that this issue does not impact the top’s functionality.
“It causes, and could cause, an unsatisfactory cosmetic appearance. So what we’re doing — we need to do this right — we’re replacing all hard-top roofs for customers who have either taken delivery, as well as those that are waiting at dealers ... and then we’re also going to replace all the roofs that have been built and awaiting final release at the Michigan Assembly Plant.”
“It’s cosmetic, or could be cosmetic,” Marentic made clear, saying owners can keep driving and “posting the way they’re posting and showing what this vehicle is capable of.”
“Here’s the challenge now: Some of the customers who have ordered a two and four-door with a hard top roof are going to have to wait a bit longer.”
“I just want to reinforce: We are highly disappointed. We are inconveniencing people ... we know ultimately the ‘make it right’ means ‘get me the vehicle’ and we’re working as fast as we can to get [them] to the customers.”
As for Broncos that have already been serialized at plant, Ford plans to give estimated delivery dates starting in September.
Grueber chimed in. “We sincerely appreciate the customers’ patience and loyalty. We know they’re disappointed on this news as well. We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to take care of the customers.”
That means compensation in the form of FordPass Rewards Points, which Grueber says could be used to buy accessories or even to make a down payment. (Note that way back in December of 2020, Ford was providing ~$300 worth of FordPass Reward Points for customers dealing with Bronco delays, per Ford Truck Enthusiasts). In addition, if someone orders a 2022 or 2023 model, they can lock in the current vehicle’s pricing. Plus, Grueber says people who want their Bronco soon can just order the soft top model, and they’ll get a free hardtop prep kit, which includes connections and controls for the rear windshield wiper and defroster.
Grueber also mentioned “monthly exclusive Bronco merchandise and offers,” and new colors, options, and special editions available on 2022 models.
I inquired about the technical issue with these composite hardtops, and though Ford didn’t get into the nitty gritty, Ford’s PR did tell me that the problem has to do with the interaction between moisture and the roof’s edges. “When they’re exposed to heavy rain and humidity, this is where we’re starting to see the appearance that is not satisfactory,” Ford’s PR rep responded.
“It’s around the hardtop edges ... When you get extreme water or humidity, that’s when it’s causing the unsatisfactory appearance,” Grueber told me.
Grueber told me that Webasto’s fix doesn’t involve a material change, but rather a manufacturing process alteration. “The process has now been adjusted to ensure that we get that robust seal that we need,” he said.
The image above, posted to the Bronco6G forum by user Biltwild, shows some rather hideous-looking hardtop edges. It’s no wonder Ford is getting all of these out of customers’ hands. I am just amazed that this made it through the company’s (and Webasto’s) test regimen. Another forum user posted a picture of multiple Broncos outside of Ford’s plant with “bad roof” written on the side rear glass.
It’s a bad situation, but it seems that Ford is taking it seriously — which is no surprise, because losing sales on what has potential to be a cash cow would be a real shame for the company. The document whose pages I’ve inserted into the article above describes how Ford plans to deal with hard top Broncos moving forward.