Anonymous sources told reporters that Ford might start building a new Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV, getting the “cheap truck” fans all fired up this morning. Maybe the Ranger will come back, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for bargain-basement models.
We circle back to this over and over again. The commentariat asks why we can’t get small and/or inexpensive trucks in the U.S. Then automakers shrug as people line up around the block to plunk down $50,000 on a truck with heaps of horsepower, a huge luxurious cab, and a little bitty bed.
I can’t tell you why such machines are so popular, but I can explain why we’re not likely to get the crank-window’d single-cab work-spec stripped Ranger. Actually I kind of just did, but let’s break it down anyway:
“So what has Ford actually confirmed?”
This is their only official statement regarding the rumors of new trucks being built for America, in America:
We will move production of the next-generation Ford Focus and C-MAX, which currently are built at Michigan Assembly Plant, beginning in 2018. We actively are pursuing future vehicle alternatives to produce at Michigan Assembly and will discuss this issue with UAW leadership as part of the upcoming negotiations.”
“Could ‘future vehicles’ be anything besides the Ranger or Bronco?”
Of course. They could literally be anything, or nothing, if there’s no business case or pitch from the UAW compelling enough for Ford to keep the Michigan Assembly Plant open.
Keep in mind we also export vehicles made here in America. Ford could choose to start building Rangers or Broncos at their Michigan facility and still only send them out to other markets.
“I’m still convinced these trucks are happening for us... Why do you say pickups are so expensive now?”
They’re loaded with leather and lane departure warnings and self-cooking steaks in the center console now.
“Why can’t I buy an honest, inexpensive, work truck?”
First of all, the higher-end stuff is much more profitable for automakers. The profit margins on $60,000 luxury trucks are insane. Close second; demand for luxury trucks is extremely high.
The pickup truck market has always been a game of one-uppsmanship; more power, more towing. Now that we’re reaching the physical and legal limits of what an Average Joe Driver is allowed to haul, trucks are trumping each other on luxury features. Chevy adds a High Country top-trim to their Silverado line, Ram comes out with the Laramie Limited. Ford fires back with the F-150 limited, which may well be the first truck you can option up to $70,000. And we haven’t even hit the top yet.
“What about the working man?”
Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, and anybody else selling vehicles is not in the game to run a socialist “supply the everyman” operation. They exist to make money. As much as possible.
If they could make more money selling a lot of cheap trucks, they’d do that. But so far it seems to be the case that they’re quite content to make big profit selling smaller quantities of more expensive vehicles. Until that changes, you’re gonna be hard-pressed to find anything with crank windows on a dealership lot.
“Okay, fine, maybe they won’t be cheap. But a U.S. Ranger or Bronco would still be cool, right?”
Totally. I’m a big fan of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon; decent economy, tidy interiors, more refinement than the rest of the small-truck market (Toyota and Nissan).
A Ford “small” pickup competitor would keep pushing innovation in that segment, as GM lit a fire under Toyota’s ass to make them finally refresh the Tacoma.
But a Bronco... yeah. That would be a huge win for everybody.
“Why would a new Bronco be better than a new Ranger?”
The mid-size truck segment is a cool idea, but for reasons I’ve outlined above (every truck on a dealer’s lot turns into a luxomobile) the MSRP on a nice Chevy Colorado gets dangerously close to a full-size Silverado, which might not have as many toys but sure would have a lot more capability.
There’s also the issue of a Ranger stealing sales from the Ford F-Series, the “best-selling” status of which has been a favorite marketing message for the company for years. Jeopardizing that would be a tough sell to Ford brass who put food on the table, no small thanks to the F-Series’ success.
Now a Bronco would be shaking up a segment of one: off-road, pure bred small SUVs. The Jeep Wrangler is the king and sole-resident of this market. And it’s incredibly popular.
Meanwhile Ford’s done a great job maintaining off-road cred with the Raptor. The Wrangler may have divine “iconic” status, but it’s expensive and inefficient and rides rough. If Ford could hit the Wrangler selling points that appeal to the everyman (convertible, removable doors, the idea of off-roadability) I think they could have a real shot at grabbing a big bite of Wrangler sales and maybe even getting some old Ford fans excited about the brand again.
They’d just have to watch out they didn’t make the same mistakes Toyota did with the FJ Cruiser: not make it a convertible, not make it remotely practical, and, uh, not making it look all that great.
Maybe we have cool things to look forward to. I hope so.
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