The Future of the Ford Bronco
We are all rejoicing over the very real possibility of a new Ford Bronco, but what form will it take?
The Bronco reintroduction is tied to the all but certain Ford Ranger, which goes a long way toward informing any speculation. Ford would not bring back the Bronco if it did not have a location to produce it, a platform upon which to base it, and a real plan for using it to bring new customers to the blue oval. We can thus assume that the Michigan Assembly Plant, soon to be renamed the Michigan Truck Plant, is the place and the Ranger will donate its platform. This reality may meet with some disappointment among full-size Bronco supporters, but the prospects for a genuinely capable Bronco are positive.
Ford needs to differentiate the Bronco from its seemingly comprehensive SUV/CUV lineup. The company must create a Bronco that appeals to a different audience than those already shopping for an Escape, Edge, Explorer, or Expedition. The international Ranger T6 derived Everest offers a natural alternative, given its shared Ranger underpinnings, tidy dimensions, and preexisting investment. However, the Everest would be nearly impossible to differentiate versus the Explorer. It would be improbable to expect consumers to understand the difference between unibody and body-on-frame construction and the true off-road capabilities of an Everest derived Bronco versus the soft-roader Explorer. Ford is highly unlikely to accept that risk.
Similarly, a full-size F-150 based Bronco would eviscerate the efficiencies brought by producing the Ranger and Bronco side-by-side and would invite comparisons to the Expedition. A two-door Expedition is neither fiscally practical, nor sufficiently broad in market appeal. The full-size market is in decline, down seven percent this year even in the face of explosive demand for SUVs. If Ford’s take-rate on a two-door Expedition-Bronco were the same as Jeep’s take-rate on two-door Wranglers (30 percent), Ford could expect to sell just 13,000 Broncos. That is not enough and even that figure over-states the opportunity as full-size SUV sales are trending down. Ford needs a product that can be produced along side the Ranger and enjoy the economies of scale that brings. It needs a product that can sell with some volume to new customers, not to people who would otherwise purchase a different Ford product. If Ford fails to differentiate the Bronco it runs the risk of gutting sales of multiple products and sullying one of its most iconic nameplates.
The product strategy most likely to attract Ford’s attention is the one that is financially efficient, minimizes cannibalization, and offers the prospects for sales exceeding 25,000 units annually. The winning strategy is to position the Bronco as an alternative to the Wrangler. This should excite Bronco enthusiasts because it means a real Bronco, not a watered-down, badge-engineered product from elsewhere in the Ford portfolio. An anti-Wrangler is exactly what the original 1966 Bronco was. And once again it is the path to differentiating it from other Ford nameplates and finding new driveways where a Ford product would not otherwise be found. The Wrangler has transcended the niche product it once was and now not only defines but monopolizes its segment. Jeep will sell 230,000 Wranglers in North America this year. And although the Wrangler maintains a rabid following there is little doubt that Ford can earn a quantity of conquest sales sufficient to justify a real Bronco, not to mention the segment expansion that would occur as it has for the Colorado/Canyon twins.
Ford needs to avoid the pitfalls that beset the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra. The primary risk they face is in foregoing the expense and effort required to develop a removable top. The investment required to design a Bronco with a removable top that conforms to current and anticipated federal rollover standards is significant. However, a fixed roof will not suffice and no panoramic or my sky wannabe removable top will do. This same challenge will likely force Jeep to eliminate the fold-down feature on its windshield, but the removable top is a guaranteed feature. And so it must be with the Bronco, hard top or soft, two-door or four, the Bronco’s top must be removable.
The Ranger T6, Colorado, and Tacoma are the closest products we have access to that can inform the width of a Ranger-based Bronco. These products straddle the Wrangler’s 73 inch width plus or minus an inch, suggesting that the contemplated Bronco would be on par with the Wrangler’s size. And for full-size Bronco fans, the last iteration of the Bronco measured 79 inches wide, while the first generation measured 68 inches. A Ranger-based Bronco would thus be positioned firmly between these old Broncos and well short of the 13th generation F-150’s 80 inches, keeping it outside the realm of full-size trucks. A Ranger-based Bronco is a right-sized Bronco.
The good news for Bronco fans is that we have a lot to look forward to. All signs point to a legitimate off-road fun-machine. The bad news is that we will need to be patient, or just keep speculating.
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