Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free PressPublished 8:53 PM EDT Jul 13, 2020The Ford Bronco, an iconic American off-roader, has re-emerged after a 24-year absence.Ford tapped a country singer and two rock climbers to talk about the Bronco in a series of 3-minute stories created to debut Monday night on three Disney-owned TV channels and YouTube.Ford has said it plans to challenge Jeep with the new Bronco, especially in the off-road market.”The (Jeep) Wrangler will always have its loyal following,” said Martin French, U.S. managing director of Berylls Strategy Advisors, an automotive consultancy in Royal Oak. “But the icon is back with vengeance. Ford means business. This is the shot in the arm that consumers and dealers want and need.”The Bronco, built from 1966 to 1996, developed a cult following and now commands high prices from collectors. It was discontinued in the wake of accused murderer O.J. Simpson’s attempt to elude police in a white Bronco on national TV in 1994.2021 Ford Bronco revealed: Revived SUV boasts features to make Jeep SUV owners enviousFisker Ocean SUV to arrive in late 2022: Electric vehicle startup makes deal to go publicCorvette Stingray redesigned: GM reveals price, features of 2021 ‘Vette sports carConsumers will see the small Bronco Sport SUV in showrooms later this year. The two-door and four-door Bronco will be released in the spring of 2021.”We started this project several years ago,” said Winston Landin, Ford global director of consumer insights. “The foundational principle in the beginning was really the fact that the Bronco had already been a brand and there’s a strong heritage around the Bonco. That’s important because the vehicle would need to deliver what’s true for the Bronco — capability, durability and of course the design. There’s a lot of emotional connection that people had with this specific brand.”The unveiling of the all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport comes at a crucial time for Ford. Its executives have predicted bold gains in a market segment that has room for growth.The Ford Bronco will be built at the automaker’s assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. The Bronco Sport will be built at the Hermosillo plant in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.Ford has said it is expecting to report a $5 billion loss for the second quarter, so this high-profile product plays an essential role in the company’s portfolio.Prices for the 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport have not been released. In their process of remaking the SUV for the 21st Century, Ford designers spent thousands of hours in the field.”We have done a lot of observation,” Landin said. “For example, we spent time with customers during a whole weekend. We would start on a Friday and go snowboarding, go on off-road adventures, hiking and bike trails and camping.”On some days, members of the focus group would announce they planned a midweek escape after work and the Ford team would follow along. They watched how equipment was loaded, where people stepped to tie equipment to the roof, how they held onto the vehicle when it’s off road and who they called to join them on adventures, he said.The key is identifying so-called “pain points” and eliminating them.Ford observers noticed immediately that the mirrors on removable doors needed to be relocated so drivers weren’t going without mirrors or forced to buy aftermarket parts. So that element was redesigned. The issue of removable doors also created challenges. People expressed concern about leaving doors at home on trips and feeling vulnerable, so Ford figured out a way to store the doors on the vehicle.Ford is attempting to capture the nation’s nostalgia for long-gone vehicles with the return of the Bronco, much like Toyota recently revived the Supra sports car, General Motors is bringing back the Hummer nameplate and Jeep resuscitated the Gladiator pickup.This was the second major reveal from Ford within three weeks. The company revealed the redesigned Ford F-150 pickup on June 25.The company initially announced the Bronco reveal for July 9, which fell on the birthday of Simpson, perhaps the most famous Bronco passenger of all time. After questions raised by the family of murder victim Nicole Brown Simpson as well as the connection to domestic violence raised by UAW leaders and members, the company rescheduled.Free Press staff writer Mark Phelan contributed to this report.Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.
Phoebe Wall Howard