By Mike Colias
Steve Olliges has raced older Ford Broncos through the desert
and has five vintage ones in his garage. But the Ford dealer has
never sold one from his showroom in Las Vegas. Instead, he's
watched rival Jeep dealers in town peddle thousands of Jeep
Wranglers to off-roading enthusiasts over the years.
"Ford dealers have been saying forever: We need a Wrangler
fighter," Mr. Olliges said.
Finally, they're getting one. After nearly a decade of plotting
its return, Ford on Monday evening unveiled a new retro-looking
Bronco reminiscent of the rugged, boxy original from the 1960s --
the U.S. auto maker's latest attempt to carve into a share of
Jeep's dominant position in the off-road adventure category.
The new SUV will have two sizes: a smaller Bronco Sport to be
released later this year, and a bigger one, the main Bronco,
arriving next spring and priced at around $30,000.
Ford's Bronco is coming off the sidelines at a tricky time. U.S.
vehicle sales are expected to contract around 25% this year largely
due to the coronavirus disruption, analysts project, and car
companies are crowding showrooms with new SUV models, putting
pressures on profits.
The Bronco's tough timing illustrates a broader challenge facing
companies: products under development long before the pandemic will
roll out in a changed market, potentially forcing companies to
adapt marketing or production plans carefully laid out years in
Ford operations chief Jim Farley said for now the crisis hasn't
altered its Bronco strategy.
"We'll burn the furniture before we start cutting back on
attractive future-product growth," Mr. Farley said in an interview
Convincing Wrangler buyers to make the switch won't be an easy
task, especially with pandemic-related disruptions making it more
difficult for vehicle shoppers to browse showrooms and take test
The Bronco's long gestation period has allowed Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles NV's Jeep Wrangler to have a lock on the market for
rock-clambering vehicles with removable doors and roof panels.
Wrangler sales have tripled over the past decade, a stretch of good
times for the auto business, and SUVs in particular.
"For the longest time, the other auto makers just kind of gave
up and said 'Well, Jeep owns that'" category, said Brian Moody,
executive editor of research site Autotrader.com. "The Bronco has
the heritage to have a real opportunity."
A Jeep spokesman declined to comment.
Reviving the Bronco, which will also have a two-door option, as
a family of vehicles is a key piece of Ford Chief Executive Jim
Hackett's turnaround plan. Mr. Hackett, put in the top job three
years ago, sharpened the company's focus on more-profitable pickup
trucks and SUVs, while purging passenger cars from Ford's U.S.
The Bronco also is core to Ford's strategy to transform the
company's most popular models, such as the F-150 pickup truck, into
subbrands with multiple variations. For example, Ford is expanding
its well-known Mustang nameplate for use on an electric SUV, which
goes on sale later this year.
Mr. Farley said the Bronco should help Ford jump-start growth in
its U.S. market share, which has dropped following the
discontinuation of sedans and hatchbacks in recent years.
Ford first introduced the Bronco in 1965 at the behest of famed
auto executive Lee Iacocca, who saw an opportunity to challenge
Jeep. The vehicles garnered a cultlike following among off-road
enthusiasts and were solid sellers for decades.
But by the mid-1990s, the idea of a two-door, two-row SUV had
fallen out of favor, while roomier, three-row SUVs like Ford's
Expedition gained in popularity, said Mark Grueber, Ford's U.S.
consumer marketing manager. Ford ended Bronco production in
Two years before it was phased out, the Bronco gained unexpected
notoriety when former football star O.J. Simpson led Los Angeles
police on a low-speed chase in a white Bronco. Mr. Grueber said
Ford has no plans to reference the association in marketing the
Ford changed its original Bronco reveal date, July 9, after
criticism on social media that it fell on Mr. Simpson's birthday.
Ford has said it was a coincidence.
Enthusiasm for the Bronco has endured long after Ford killed off
the older model, leading to a hot market for collectibles from the
1960s and '70s. Valuations of the vintage SUVs have soared 75% in
the past three years, and routinely change hands for more than
$100,000, according to Hagerty, an insurer of classic cars.
Plans to revive the Bronco nameplate have stirred inside Ford
almost since its demise. Projects were started and scrapped over
the years, including a 2004 prototype that ended up being used by
action star Dwayne Johnson in the 2018 film "Rampage."
Former manufacturing executive Joe Hinrichs, who left Ford last
February, pushed the idea of returning the Bronco and the Ranger, a
similar-sized pickup truck, to the U.S. together, aiming to
leverage economies of scale. The Bronco will be built at a factory
near Detroit alongside the Ranger, which went on sale last
In developing the new model, Ford insiders attended Jeep events
incognito to chat up Wrangler enthusiasts. One thing they gleaned:
Some Jeep owners griped about the difficulty of removing the doors
and roof panels, and having no adequate place to store them while
taking the vehicles off-road, Mr. Grueber said. The design of
Bronco's removable panels takes such feedback into account, he
The Jeep spokesman declined to comment on Ford's findings.
Bryan Rood, owner of a Bronco-restoration shop in Columbus,
Ohio, said his vehicles -- the bones of old Broncos, retrofitted
with high-end, modern interiors and powertrains, that sell for more
than $200,000 -- have become a low-key status symbol for affluent
buyers who don't want the flash of a sports car.
"With an old Bronco, nobody knows how much it costs, but people
think it's cool, and it can fit your family," Mr. Rood said.
Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 13, 2020 21:11 ET (01:11 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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