Commentary: The Importance of The Ford Bronco

Ford teased us with the 2021 Bronco for too damn long. They yanked our chain. They took their sweet little time – and, yes, we get that COVID-19 and other things got in the way. 

So, Ford unveiled not just one Bronco – but three. 

Ford also did a shrewd move on making Bronco its own "brand." I understand why, since the Bronco serves a completely different purpose within Ford’s sales infrastructure. Mustang has a similar standing within Ford, as they are being developed into their own "brand" with the coupes, convertibles, and the Mach-E electric crossover.

I would rather not ask “why” they are making such a big fuss around the three Broncos that have been unveiled after years of teasing and so forth. It is time to accept what Ford is doing, their rationale, and to face the fact that they are for real. 

Ford felt the need to set the Broncos into their own family. You do have the two-door, which is a link to all previous Broncos of the past. Ford added a four-door model to the two-door, as well. They also added a very capable compact SUV in the Bronco Sport. Now, Ford’s retail network has to sell these three models alongside the F-150, Ranger, and their large family of SUVs and crossovers. 

Nothing is being replaced in the Ford lineup. Just simply augmenting their current lineup of Escapes and Explorers. The rumors of the Edge being eliminated from the Ford lineup may have something to do with the Bronco’s potential to gut sales of their two-row mid-size SUV. Then again, Ford may have figured that they have the space to expand the customer base to include real salt-of-the-Earth – and wannabe – off-road enthusiasts.

As for Ford’s rationale for introducing the Bronco family now, one has to look over at three other brands: Jeep, Toyota, and Land Rover. The Jeep Wrangler is a leading product for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles with a deeply loyal owner base. Wranglers are seen as attainable trail masters that enthusiasts have been able to modify for hardcore use. Yet, this iconic model with its 79-year heritage has also been seen as an image machine relegated by drivers who may never take one on gravel roads out in the countryside. 

Toyota’s 4Runner has been yielding steady and strong sales in USA. Most of it comes from the fact that the 4Runner is a reliable and sturdy off-road machine. Yet, it feels a bit more civilized than the Wrangler, which is what Toyota customers want. This is the only vehicle keeping the lineage of the original Land Cruisers that once traversed the canyons of this country – not to be mistaken by the overpriced luxury models wearing that same nameplate today in the USA market.

In the case of Land Rover, they just introduced the newest Defender to the world. Some have wished that Tata would build one like the original models that have left the marketplace some time ago. However, there is a nod to heritage in this new model, along with the use of new off-road technology and an emphasis on modern components to achieve the benchmarks from the previous Defender. 

With the stage set, Ford can now add another off-road ready SUV onto the trailhead. That's great, except I wonder how many new Bronco and Bronco Sport owners will actually get one off the highway to experience its true capabilities. Hopefully, they would be on the same scale as the number of F-150 Raptor owners who take their highly capable rigs off road.

This brings up the vehicles themselves. The two- and four-door Broncos will be produced alongside the Ranger at their Wayne, Michigan plant, as expected. They will share the same frame as the Ranger. However, Ford is determined to let customers know that they are indeed different. 

One such difference is the engine lineup for the "bigger" Broncos. While the 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder is shared with the Ranger, the Bronco gets the available 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 from the F-150. This is an engine that should be in the Ranger, but that’s an argument for another day. 

And, just in case you're paying attention, there will be a manual gearbox available on the larger Broncos. I hope you "Save The Manuals" readers are happy.

The Mexican-produced Bronco Sport will also have two engines – the 1.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder and the 2.0-liter version of the same engine. One observation could point that this is the non-hybrid gasoline engine lineup from the Escape. It makes me wonder how much the Bronco Sport may have in common with the Escape. My hunch is that they have been developed separately, which will be a welcomed change at Ford.

Engines are only part of the story. What Ford is banking on is the heritage of the 1966-1996 Bronco. The one that was developed from the knowhow they had when they built Jeeps for the military alongside Willys-Overland during World War II. They created an icon out of those rugged early Broncos. Ford always had a way to tie in their past to the present and future to create brand equity and products that fulfill the heritage quotient. 

Have they achieved it? I’m not sure. I know that Ford will sell plenty of them once the pandemic is over. But, at what volumes? If sales are there for the 2-door and 4-door, you can expect the Wayne, Michigan plant to go full tilt with three shifts. 

My being cautious about the Bronco family is perhaps not the thing you want to read after an evening of euphoria. The best we can do is to recognize that Ford finally delivered an overdue promise and it is set to take on its off-road ready rivals with iconography written all over its face. 

There is one thing I wish for the Ford Bronco – a successful launch. Considering the recent history of launches by Ford, all eyes on the timeline. By the early part of 2021, we should expect all three Bronco models at Ford showrooms across the country. 

All eyes are on Ford to meet this timeline for their loyal fans with the $100 reservation deposits on the line. For those people, all I hope that Ford does not screw this launch up and upset those enthusiasts and potential owners. 

To paraphrase RuPaul, please, Ford, “don’t f*** it up!”

All photos courtesy of the Ford Motor Company

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