Ford to revive Bronco SUV, Ranger pickup truck

DETROIT—Ford Motor plans to revive the Ford Bronco sport-utility vehicle and Ford Ranger mid-size pickup truck in a strategic bet on a surge of American nostalgia, hefty vehicles and low gasoline prices.

Ford CEO Mark Fields told USA TODAY that the automaker would make the two vehicles at its assembly plant in Wayne, Mich., to replace production of the Focus sedan, which is moving to Mexico, and preserve 3,600 jobs. The company will make the official announcement at the Detroit auto show.

The move marks the second Ford announcement this year on locating manufacturing in Michigan after facing sharp criticism from Donald Trump during the presidential campaign over Mexican expansion plans. The company will still move production of the Focus sedan from the Wayne, Mich. operation to Mexico, but it will be located at an existing assembly plant instead of a new $1.6 billion factory, which was canceled.

The Ranger, which is currently available in some foreign markets, will hit U.S. showrooms with new styling and powertrain options in 2019. The Bronco will return to dealerships in 2020.

"The bottom line is we have these two iconic nameplates in two segments that are growing," Fields said in an interview, describing the decision as "part of our strategy of keeping our core business healthy."

The Bronco's revival is aimed squarely at generating a groundswell of buzz among enthusiasts who never lost passion for the rugged SUV and among new customers clamoring for big vehicles amid low gasoline prices.

"There is so much love out there for the Bronco," Fields said. "If you look at that rugged SUV segment, over the last five years it’s like the second-fastest-growing segment within SUVs."

The original Ford Bronco was introduced in 1966 as an off-road vehicle. Production ended in 1996, not long after a white version of the vehicle was immortalized on national TV as O.J. Simpson's getaway vehicle. Ford replaced it with the Expedition SUV, which it still sells.

The Ranger's reintroduction is designed at capturing a share of the mushrooming market for mid-size pickup trucks, which is currently dominated by just a few vehicles, including the Toyota TacomaChevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. But it will also present a challenge for Ford to avoid cannibalizing sales of the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., the F-series full-size pickup truck.

Ford did not release any photos of the Ranger or Bronco or details on pricing, design strategy or engineering.

Still, anticipation is already building. At a practice run for Monday's Detroit auto show press conference attended by a USA TODAY reporter on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, 3,000 Ford employees burst into applause when the Bronco and Ranger icons were splashed onto a digital big screen.

Ranger production for North American sales will begin in late 2018, said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford's Americas division. The vehicle is already available in certain foreign markets, including Europe.

"It will come back with unique ... styling, engines and features," Hinrichs said at the practice press conference. "Ranger fans have spoken and Ford is delivering."

Hinrichs described the Bronco's return as a response to "a passionate group of people who want a modern version of one of the best-known and best-loved 4-by-4 nameplates in automotive history."

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"This is a no-compromise, mid-size, 4-by-4 utility for the thrill-seekers who want freedom and off-road functionality with the space and versatility of an SUV," Hinrichs said. "The Bronco is capable of conquering everything from your daily commute to gravel roads and boulders."

The Bronco is among five new sport utility vehicles that Ford will deliver globally by 2020, Hinrichs said.

Locating the Bronco and Ranger production at the Michigan assembly plant could assuage criticism over Ford's decision to move Focus production to low-cost plants in Mexico, where many automakers are making low-profit small cars.

Fields defended the decision to make the Focus in Mexico for sale in the U.S. despite Trump's threatened 35% tariff on Mexican-made cars sold to Americans, which would require renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Having a low-cost source of operation is really important," Fields told USA TODAY. "Consumers in this segment, here in North America and particularly the U.S., expect a certain price point and a value that they can afford. As a carmaker we have to make sure we’re delivering that but we’re also delivering something that contributes profitably to the enterprise."


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