By Andrew Murphy
Well? Does it?
There’s been internet chatter about Ford possibly releasing a pickup bearing the Bronco name ever since news of the 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport hit the web. The main reason for the speculation is the existence of the Jeep Gladiator pickup in showrooms.
Poor Numbers …
Rumors of a possible Bronco variant with a pickup bed spread further when FourHorses, a user on the Bronco6G forum, posted a video clip of Bronco sketches on Jan 14, 2021.
The particular sketch that caught FourHorse’s attention was of a Bronco-derived vehicle that had a pickup bed with the image captioned “with the help of liftgate extension, let’s pack up and go see your parents.”
These sketches have sparked conversations around the question of how a Bronco pickup would fit into the Ford lineup, garnering comments like these:
“Ford, please no. Just stop it. Why? Let Jeep do their own thing with the Gladiator.”
“Please not a copy of the wildly unsuccessful Gladiator. Just make a Ranger Bronco edition or something.”
Unsuccessful? According to year-end sales figures in 2020, Jeep sold 77,542 Gladiators in a year of COVID-19 that held automakers back on sales. For a derivative product off an existing platform, and manufactured on the same lines as Wrangler, that’s a success and lot of profit for Stellantis (the new corporate name encompassing Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, Alfa Romeo.) Consider that Subaru sold a paltry 30,000 Baja pickups over four and a half years.
For a reference internal to Ford, consider that Ford sold 24,166 Rangers in the first quarter this year. Ranger is arguably the most comparable vehicle right now in the Ford lineup.
Or Successful Plan?
Recently, when spy photos surfaced showing a Gladiator sporting manufacturing plates entering a Ford truck facility in early June, speculation jumped again. But not so fast. While Ford never confirms future product plans, automakers routinely buy competitor vehicles to do shake-down testing and competitive analysis, as well as engineering tear-downs. The design sketch? Automaker design sketches for derivatives are also very common. For every one that gets produced, there are dozens that never make it off the sketchpad.
However, a Bronco pickup that is unique and stands apart from the Ranger design-wise could work well in today’s market, says Michelle Krebs, director of Automotive Relations at the AutoTrader Group.
“It seems like there is no ceiling for truck/SUV sales.” Krebs says. Ford could nick a lot of buyers from rivals with the right design. “The midsize truck market is a different animal. Those shoppers (other than Toyota Tacoma buyers) are not at all loyal, so whatever is the hot new thing is the winner. They also tend to use the vehicle for fun, so personality counts.”
Ford has stopped building and developing passenger cars in the U.S., except for the Mustang, as the company believes trucks, SUVs and crossovers are going to dominate vehicle sales for many years to come. With no Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, Crown Vic, Lincoln Continentals, etc. to put into showrooms, Ford is continuing to fill out its lineup and showrooms with utility vehicles that pack much more profit than passenger cars.
Development costs would be low for a Bronco pickup, and it would be added to Michigan Assembly Plant with Ranger and Bronco. A worst-case scenario of 80,000 Bronco pickups over a four-year cycle would still be profitable, as it would help to optimize the plant.
The question, then, is not whether Ford should do a Bronco pickup. Instead, ask this: Why wouldn’t it?
Andrew Murphy lives in Richmond Virginia, and works in auto industry marketing and social media. He also wrenches on his cars, including a Jeep Wrangler until he can take delivery on a new Ford Bronco.