At the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford confirmed many truck fans' hopes and dreams by announcing the return of the mid-size Ranger pickup truck and a new Bronco SUV. Ford said the Ranger will be available for model year 2019 and the Bronco will follow a year later.
Ford has been selling a mid-size global Ranger for several years. It's almost the size of a mid-1990s F-150 and within an inch of every dimension of the Chevrolet Colorado sold in the U.S. We, along with much of the pickup truck community, have been begging Ford to bring the Ranger back to the U.S. to provide a less expensive, more maneuverable and easier-to-park alternative to its larger pickups, but the company has maintained that the Ranger wasn't right for North America anymore. Ford said it was too close in price and size to the F-150, that there wasn't demand for such a truck and that buyers' needs were being met with base models of the F-150.
So what changed Ford's mind? We think it's the success of the Colorado and GMC Canyon. GM doesn't break out the sales numbers for its light-duty and heavy-duty pickups; they are lumped into one number. But we think that the sales success of the mid-size Colorado and Canyon (the plant can't build them fast enough) has not come at the expense of Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra sales, as some had predicted. That apparently convinced Ford business planners to bring the Ranger back to its country of origin, accompanied by a Bronco variant as well.
With little information available regarding what will actually hit showrooms, we've come up with five things that we think Ford needs to get right in order to make sure the Ranger is a success when it arrives.
1. Take Advantage of Pickup Buyers' Long Memories
The excitement across social media and at the Detroit auto show after the Ranger announcement was palpable. Folks really miss the Ranger, and fans of the nameplate have been lamenting that there hasn't been one in the U.S. since production of the previous one ended with model-year 2011. Perhaps the only thing more anticipated than the new Ranger is the new Bronco, which has the internet running wild with speculation on what it will look like.
2. Make Sure the Bronco Is Legit
The Bronco will be based off of the Ranger, much like the international Everest SUV is based off of the current global Ranger. Ford insists that whatever Bronco arrives in the U.S. in 2020 will not be the Everest. Ford promises a true off-road machine in the style of the Jeep Wrangler, and intel has surfaced that it will be equipped with Dana solid axles front and rear (just like a Wrangler) to back up that claim. If the Bronco is legit and popular, that will only help the Ranger's business case, as the incremental volume added to the plant to produce the Bronco on the Ranger line will help drive profitability for Ford.
3. Price It Differently Than the F-150
Ford has been worried that it can't build the new Ranger cheaply enough to keep it from encroaching on the F-150's price range, and that's a real concern. But the buyers of the Colorado and Silverado have turned out to be two different animals, looking for different things in a truck. Buyers aren't afraid to spend some coin on a well-equipped Colorado (loaded, it can easily top $50,000), so some overlap is inevitable. But charging too much for the smaller truck could be an issue.
4. Don't Make It Too Big
The current global Ranger is much bigger than the previous North American Ranger, but it's a completely different truck. The global Ranger is just a hair smaller than the Colorado in nearly every dimension, so keeping it the same size would probably be the best idea. There's a real demand for a much smaller, simpler, less-expensive truck (which is why Nissan sells tens of thousands of tiny, decade-old Frontiers every year), but it's unlikely the Ranger will follow this path.
5. Have a Good Explanation for the Delay
The gap between the last U.S. Ranger and the new U.S. Ranger will be nearly eight years — eight years of Ford telling us that nobody wanted a new Ranger, that buyers were happy with base-level F-150s and Ford Transit Connect vans instead. Ford has to come up with a good reason for why it's taken so long to bring us a new Ranger, and why Ford suddenly changed its mind. We're looking forward to hearing that explanation, but we're even more excited about having a couple of serious new trucks to play with.