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  • In 2020, amid a global pandemic, Ford finally launched a highly anticipated

  • product that could restore a beloved brand name, take on the off road SUV

  • market, and rake in the profits the company badly needs.

  • The product is the Ford Bronco.

  • The Bronco is a name that is familiar to generations of car buyers, first

  • introduced in the mid 1960s, it had a tough, rugged image and symbolized

  • an adventurous lifestyle many Americans aspired to.

  • It lasted for about three decades during which it endured a fuel crisis

  • and a changing U.S.

  • car market that saw the rapid influx of highly successful imports that

  • challenge American car companies.

  • After it was discontinued, it remained a favorite vehicle for collectors

  • and vintage car fans.

  • And now it is back.

  • And Ford is capitalizing on both nostalgia and the heightened interest in

  • SUVs and trucks.

  • Ford is promoting the Bronco as an off-road ready sport utility and has

  • debuted a new "Built Wild" brand campaign around it.

  • Ford is already the strongest brand in full sized trucks and has wowed the

  • market with the Raptor, an innovative off-road version of its best selling

  • F-150 half ton pickup.

  • But with the Bronco, Ford is going head to head with another best selling

  • brand, the Jeep Wrangler, which is extremely well established in the

  • off-road SUV segment.

  • Ford is also releasing the Bronco while the United States struggles

  • through the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic fallout.

  • The poor timing is no fault of Ford.

  • But with stiff competition and economic strain, the question is, can the

  • second largest U.S.

  • automaker sell a vehicle it has been hyping for years?

  • This Bronco brand represents fun, it represents off-road, it represents

  • kind of some classic American nameplate that goes way back.

  • Those people who remember that history and know that history, they're

  • going to love seeing the name plate come back.

  • Ford traces the history of the Bronco back to World War Two when the

  • automaker competed for government contracts to make military vehicles,

  • Ford sold 275,000 GPW jeeps during the war.

  • But the Bronco itself didn't come out for another 20 years, in the 1960s,

  • during a transformative time for Ford.

  • As an aside, there is an early sketch of the Bronco that was the handiwork

  • of McKinley Thompson Jr., the first black designer to be hired by any of

  • the Detroit automakers.

  • The Bronco project was led largely by Don Frey, who had just overseen the

  • launch of the now legendary Ford Mustang, the small two door pony car that

  • became a massive seller and an iconic American car.

  • The idea with Bronco was to build a sturdy Jeep like vehicle that would

  • also be able to handle on the highway something other models at the time

  • were not as strong at.

  • International Harvester and Jeep CJ were the only two kind of viable

  • off-road vehicles in the early 60s.

  • Ford did a lot of market research.

  • We talked about thousands of Jeep owners and thousands of Scout owners to

  • find out what they like and didn't like about the vehicles.

  • And what we found out is they weren't very good on the highway.

  • When the Bronco came out, Frey said in a press release that there was a new

  • pony in the stable, referring to the fact that both Mustang and Bronco

  • took their names from terms for horses.

  • But the Bronco was not expected to be the runaway success Mustang was.

  • In the 1960s, the off-road vehicle segment was a niche market.

  • It was a vehicle purpose built for recreation.

  • The early Bronco was only available with two doors, though there was a

  • wagon version which did have a rear seat.

  • It had a spartan interior, no air conditioning, and few other creature

  • comforts. Over time, some of those were added.

  • The first generation Bronco was actually rather small compared with those

  • that came later. The vehicle was meant to be updated with a larger

  • footprint in the mid 1970s, but the oil embargoes and fuel shortages

  • delayed that plan.

  • The larger Bronco finally did debut in 1978 and was based on the F-Series,

  • Ford's long running and top selling line of full size pickup trucks.

  • The automaker tried to widen the product lineup with a smaller version of

  • the Bronco called the Bronco II.

  • The vehicle was considered a flop, but it was the precursor to the

  • Explorer, which is now one of the best selling SUVs of all time.

  • In all, the Bronco ran for about 30 years before Ford pulled the plug.

  • By the late 1990s, market tastes had shifted and those who were buying

  • Fords wanted the family friendly explorer with its four doors, not the

  • rough riding Bronco.

  • However, throughout its three decade life, the Bronco did develop a

  • following. It was helped by Bronco's reputation as a desert racing truck,

  • exemplified by its performance in the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 races.

  • Bronco's got a real rich history in off-road racing in particular at Baja.

  • The vehicle behind me here is the Rod Hall, the winning truck in '69 at

  • the Baja 1000.

  • It also garnered some fame through popular culture.

  • So when John Paul the second made his first visit to the US, he was

  • shepherded around during his public visits in a modified Popemobile

  • Bronco. And there's a great photo of John Paul the second at Yankee

  • Stadium waving to the crowd at the back of his Bronco.

  • Since its discontinuation, the vehicle has become highly sought after by

  • collectors. Vintage Broncos fetch high prices, its cult status and racing

  • history left it poised for a resurrection.

  • For Ford, bringing Bronco back is about reviving a legendary name in a

  • moment when so many customers are turning toward sport utilities possibly

  • for good. The Broncos primary target, the Jeep Wrangler, is regarded by

  • many in the industry as one of the strongest brands in the entire

  • automotive world. Apart from a few other models, including perhaps pricey

  • Land Rovers and the also pricey Toyota Land Cruiser, the Wrangler is

  • considered the tough off road SUV to have.

  • It has a worldwide reputation for its ruggedness and quintessential

  • American identity.

  • It also has an almost religiously devoted fan base.

  • Fiat Chrysler Jeeps parent takes its core market seriously.

  • It also benefits from a long history of continuous production.

  • The Wrangler name has been around since the mid 1980s, and its heritage is

  • often traced all the way back to the original Jeep models that were made

  • as military vehicles during World War Two.

  • The Wrangler usually doesn't change much from year to year, which could be

  • said to be part of its appeal.

  • The company does listen to its customers and has the benefit of decades of

  • continuous feedback from them on what to improve to make the Wrangler

  • sturdier and more capable road name notwithstanding.

  • The Bronco, on the other hand, is an entirely new product.

  • Industry analysts note it doesn't have that long, unbroken history of

  • customer input and incremental product improvement.

  • But Ford's chief operating officer, Jim Farley, said in 2020 that the

  • Bronco will be a superior product to the Wrangler.

  • Jeep sold about 228,000 wranglers in 2019 and 240,000 the year before.

  • That seems like quite a lot, but the question remains as to how many

  • Wrangler buyers are likely to drop a trusted brand they are devoted to and

  • take a chance on something new.

  • The Bronco does have its strengths.

  • The vehicle is a traditional body on frame SUV and it is built on the same

  • platform as the Ranger, Ford's midsize pickup.

  • The Ranger itself is a revival, first released for the 2019 model year.

  • So that truck has not been around that long either.

  • But Ford's reputation in pickup trucks is strong.

  • So the Bronco may benefit from that association and from the company's

  • expertise in that corner of the market.

  • Ford's pickups, especially the F-150, are considered the company's cash

  • cow. The F-Series is not only the best selling line of trucks in America,

  • it is the best selling line of vehicles overall.

  • The F-150 accounts for the bulk of that.

  • The market for off-road vehicles is also bigger than it was when the

  • original Bronco debuted.

  • However, Ford is releasing the vehicle at what could prove to be a

  • difficult time for automotive sales and the economy overall.

  • Some analysts say the Bronco could end up like so many vehicles that have

  • made a big splash during their debut, sold strongly for a year or even a

  • few years, and then watched their sales fall as the shine wore off.

  • Automotive economist John Gabrielson has charted the rise and fall in

  • volumes of several vehicles and different segments that generated a lot of

  • excitement when they were introduced.

  • These include the short lived retro experiments such as the Chevrolet HHR

  • and SSR, and 11th generation Ford Thunderbird, environmentally conscious

  • vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt hybrid and Bolt electric,

  • and SUVs such as the once popular but polarizing Hummer vehicles, which

  • General Motors now plans to reintroduce as an electric.

  • Sales of these vehicles seemed to peak very soon after they were introduced

  • the first year or so before they declined, sometimes rapidly.

  • The Bronco has also drawn comparisons with the Toyota FJ Cruiser, a

  • purpose built SUV Toyota introduced in 2003, then pulled from the market

  • after the 2014 model year.

  • The vehicle was a hit with hard core off-road fans and has been a popular

  • choice as a vintage vehicle after its discontinuation in the U.S.,

  • There's a real dedicated following behind the Ford Bronco nameplate.

  • And so bringing it back makes sense, especially in this very kind of SUV

  • happy, SUV hot marketplace that we've got right now.

  • Ford seems to be taking steps to prevent the Bronco from becoming a product

  • whose flame burns brightly but briefly.

  • Jeep declined to comment on this story.

  • First, Ford is not just releasing a single Bronco, the Bronco is actually a

  • brand with the larger Ford brand, similar to what Mustang has become.

  • The automaker is offering a choice of three vehicles in the hope of

  • capturing a wider swath of customers.

  • Executives have said that more Bronco vehicles could be on the way.

  • There are two door and four door versions based on the Ranger platform and

  • a smaller, lower priced version called the Bronco Sport.

  • There are about six trim levels for the Bronco alone, plus a special first

  • edition version in designing the Bronco.

  • Ford has also taken customer input seriously and says it has tried to

  • answer needs it thinks are underserved.

  • We spent a lot of time digging through the archives to make sure we really

  • understood the essence of the Bronco brand.

  • We created expert panels and talked to enthusiasts to make sure we fully

  • understood what Bronco was all about.

  • And for for us, Bronco had to be really true to what a Bronco always was.

  • For example, many Wrangler drivers like to pull the doors and the roofs off

  • their vehicles. But Ford said its design makes doing this easier.

  • And on the four door version of the Bronco, all four doors can be stowed in

  • the trunk, a feature not found on the Wrangler.

  • Ford's actually done some really thoughtful design touches, like being able

  • to stash the doors in the back instead of having to leave them behind,

  • having the mirrors mounted on the fenders instead of on the doors.

  • If you've ever taken the doors off the Wrangler, you quickly realized I

  • don't have any side-view mirrors anymore.

  • There are slide out tables on the rear of the Bronco for camping or

  • tailgating, along with a bottle opener and floodlights on its tailgate.

  • Ford also offers an optional bundle of off-road upgrades called the

  • Sasquatch Package, which comes standard on the Broncos highest trim.

  • Opting for the Sasquatch Package makes the vehicle only available with

  • automatic transmission.

  • Manual options are otherwise available, but Ford's North America product

  • communications manager Mike Levine said on Twitter the company is open to

  • changing that if customers want the manual with the Sasquatch Package as

  • well. Ford is also trying to build out a community of Bronco drivers that

  • can help sustain interest in the vehicle over time.

  • The automaker is starting a program called Off-Roadeo, where new owners are

  • offered a free day and a half clinic in off-road driving and Bronco

  • ownership on one of four courses around the U.S.

  • There is also an online forum called Bronco Nation for owners and

  • enthusiasts. So this Bronco Nation website is is up and running and we

  • expect that to be just a great source for building that community.

  • We have the opportunity to come in fresh to kind of help organize that

  • community into a singular community, where if you want to know the latest

  • Bronco news or just learning about the outdoors signing up for the

  • Off-Roadeo, they'll go to TheBroncoNation.com.

  • The Broncos starts at $29,995 including destination charges, which is just

  • $205 more than a base Jeep Wrangler.

  • Prices for the highest end models, top $60,000.

  • If it takes off, the Bronco could be a great moneymaker for Ford.

  • Selling 125,000 Broncos, just more than half the volume of the Jeep

  • Wrangler in 2018, would contribute nearly $1 billion to Ford's North

  • American pretax earnings, according to Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy.

  • He expects Bronco to pull in profits of about $7,500 per unit.

  • That would make Bronco one of Ford's most profitable models.

  • Ford's North America president Kumar Galhotra projected the company could

  • sell hundreds of thousands of Broncos a year.

  • This all comes at a time when the second largest U.S.

  • automaker is in the middle of a multi-year turnaround.

  • CEO Jim Hackett who took the reins of the company in May 2017, had at

  • times taken criticism for not moving quickly or decisively enough to cut

  • the company's costs and jettison struggling businesses.

  • In August, Hackett said he would retire from Ford effective October 1st.

  • Ford said COO Jim Farley would take Hackett's place.

  • Ford continues to be challenged in China and has had difficulty with its

  • business in Europe. The Blue Oval unveiled an $11 billion restructuring

  • plan in 2018, which at the time Ford said would take years.

  • But before coronavirus set in, there were some positive signs at the

  • company. Its North American business continued to be strong, in large part

  • due to the success of its full size trucks.

  • Shares were up more than 21% for the 2019 calendar year.

  • Now, like all automakers, Ford is struggling with the effects of the

  • coronavirus pandemic.

  • As of July 17th, 2020 shares had fallen roughly 27% since the beginning of

  • the year, Ford said in late June, its sales for the second quarter of 2020

  • were down 33%, though this was in line with industry expectations.

  • The pandemic also forced the automaker to stop production for several

  • weeks during the quarter.

  • But in late July, Ford released results for