February 12, 2010
Ford Bronco: Make it Now!
By Chris Trout
The peaks and valleys in the emotional life of a car-guy are often marked by brilliant or poor decisions made by auto manufacturers. The day the F-body’s (Camaro/Firebird) cancellation was announced was a sad day in the lives of many dedicated GM muscle car fans. However, when the new Camaro was re-introduced as a concept car, the hearts and minds of the faithful followers leapt with rediscovered bliss. Supra kids still weep over the loss of their pearl from the American market. In the same way, my heart sank when I heard that the Ford Ranger would be cancelled, and the Explorer moved to a car frame. Despite some automotive pessimism and distrust for automakers, excellent decisions about great products are still made daily. The conception and fruition of the Nissan GT-R, the 29 mpg 300 hp V6 Camaro, the F150 Raptor, and the BMW 1 Series all show that car producers can still make excellent products to keep the dreams and minds busy of an adoring automotive community.
2004 Ford Bronco Concept
However, it goes without saying that any new vehicle introduced or revitalized is produced for one and only one purpose: to sell it. I have heard many people complain that car companies are only in it for profitability and not for the sake of making great cars. That is inescapably and necessarily true. Car companies can only continue in business if they can maintain long-term profitability. I have all kinds of strong opinions about the luxury car segment but I will probably never buy a new car, let alone a new luxury car, so my opinion is logically ignored. Successful car companies make cars that people want to and are willing to buy. It is for that reason that performance often drops in the name of gas mileage or reliability because that is often where the buyers make decisions. It is also for that reason that the world is filled with PT-Cruisers, 2.7 Chargers, V6 automatic Mustangs, station wagons dressed up as SUVs, and now a four door, family-oriented Porsche.
It is with this understanding but optimistic hope that I bring to the reader production vehicles I feel can and should be made now. I hope to continue to write this line of articles as I arrive at more excellent and feasible ideas.
The first vehicle that I feel should be made NOW is the Ford Bronco. Along with Jeeps of all kinds, Toyota FJs and International Scouts, the Ford Bronco was a pioneer in the automotive market. At the time the Bronco arrived, there was no such thing as an SUV as we know them today. There were cars, station wagons, trucks, and 4x4s. Jeeps, Broncos, FJs, and Scouts were referred to only as the latter at that time because that was their primary purpose. They were truck-framed, off-road purposed machines. Many Broncos were manual transmission vehicles with full-time, straight axle differential four-wheel drives. When Bronco arrived, it was mid-sized, like an Explorer or Trailblazer is now. As with all of its contemporaries, the Bronco carried and continues to carry a reputation as a legitimate off-road performer straight from the factory. Bronco grew to be a full size vehicle and shared many components with the F150 before its discontinuation in 1996 as the Explorer had taken its sales in a more suburban-family focused direction.
First Generation Ford Bronco
Several years ago, my heart and mind raced when I saw a Ford Bronco concept at the Chicago Auto Show. The lines were reminiscent of the first generation Ford Bronco, but like the modern Mustang, had brilliantly sharp edges to remind you of its youth. I have been waiting like a child for ice cream since I heard and saw rumors of its existence. However, no further rumors have surfaced and no sharper detail arrived either so I am left to assume it was shot down somewhere in the product development cycle early on.
That said, I feel that a Ford Bronco would make a lot of sense right now. Ford is responding appropriately to demand and moving many SUVs to a crossover basis as environmental concern and fuel mileage are brought to the front of many American Consumer’s minds. However, Nissan successfully markets Rogue and Murano (crossovers) alongside Xterra and Pathfinder (more strength-minded framed) SUVS. With Escape, Edge, and Explorer all on car platforms, that leaves only Expedition residing on a truck frame. Expeditions are nice but their more cumbersome size and weight makes them more competitive with the large people mover SUVs like Suburban and Durango. This leaves a perfect spot for a lower production mid-size truck frame SUV like a Bronco in Ford’s lineup.
A modern Bronco’s entry in the mid-size off-road focused SUV niche would face challengers. Obviously, the Jeep Wrangler has marched on through time and still resides in that segment. Other competitors include the Toyota FJ, Nissan Xterra, and Hummer H3. It is proven that consumers will respond well to a nostalgic and novelty model name, especially one with significant brand equity. Introducing the familiar moniker Bronco into that segment, and building it purposefully would likely have a positive sales outcome.
At this point in the article, I can hear the panicked impatience from readers. “Who cares why?” you’re screaming, “ Lets talk about what this thing will be like!”
As I mentioned a Bronco entry would be ideal as a mid-size, low production enthusiast vehicle. Since it will not have economies of scale, it will have to employ a lot of component sharing to leverage its way into a reasonable price point. That said, I think the Bronco could utilize the now abandoned truck frame under the Explorer (as the Explorer shifts to the Taurus platform). The Explorer frame would size the Bronco adequately only if front and rear approach angles are considered, and overhangs minimized. Utilizing FX4 Ranger suspension and locking differential axles modified for use with F150 hubs and brakes would make a 17 inch wheel and 33 inch tire possible, along with the ability to utilize the vast array of F150 wheel packages. Mount BFGoodrich All-Terrains or Goodyear Wranglers at the base level trim and sell an off-road traction package including Bilstein Shocks and Mud Terrain tires with heavy-duty skid plates. Obviously, the Bronco would only come in 4×4 but unlike the 70s version, should allow for 2WD daily use to maximize fuel mileage. The engine and transmission portfolio should mirror the outgoing Ranger/Explorer portfolio and include the 4.0 SOHC 205HP V6 and the 4.6 SOHC 300HP V8. Transmissions would include the current Ranger/Explorer automatic as well as the latest stick shift option manual from the Ranger. A beefed up version of the Ranger/Explorer transfer case would be adequate and appropriate as long as there is no suburb-focused AWD option. Like the early 70s Bronco, the modern interpretation should include a removable back half to give the convertible effect without making compromises with a low budget cloth top. Two front end and two rear end frame-mounted tow hooks should be on all trim levels but auxiliary off-road lighting should be optional on the front bumper and the roof. Interior should be insanely basic, bordering on uncomfortable, and offering no leather package. Considering a high-trim Ranger current costs around 24K, a high-trim FJ runs at 25K, the off-road focused Xterra comes in at 29K, a four door Wrangler can be as much as 32K, and an H3 could cost a bankrupting 43K during their last year of production, I think that I could price the Bronco comfortably in the segment. With an insanely basic interior, sans most luxury creature comforts, and an overbuilt but simple drive train, I think a base four door Bronco could land at $25K, and an option loaded, traction-heavy, spotlight armed proliferation could still manage to come in under $30K.
A Bronco now would be feasible to make and sell, especially in low-production numbers. The Bronco would be insanely beneficial for brand equity, especially among the more patriotic consumer and to be frank, I would love to opportunity to see one, let alone drive or own one. If executed correctly, it might even generate some real sales and maybe some profits right along with them. As always, I would not be in the market until it was at least five years used anyway but a guy can dream. Make it for real Ford!
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