UPDATED: 8/26/15 11:55 am ET - adds Bronco concept photo
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is in discussions with the UAW about bringing the Ranger midsize pickup and Bronco SUV back to the U.S. market, according to a Bloomberg report and a person with knowledge of the talks.
The company is considering a plan to build the vehicles at Michigan Assembly Plant near Detroit after production of the Focus and C-Max ends in 2018, the source said.
Ford also is considering production of the Bronco SUV at the plant, Bloomberg reported. Ford filed a trademark application for the Bronco name in February, according to a government filing.
The proposal, which would need to be approved by Ford’s board of directors, as well as the union, would give the automaker a smaller and less expensive complement to the F-series that it has lacked since discontinuing the U.S. Ranger in 2011.
Ford still sells the Ranger in nearly 200 markets overseas.
As transaction prices for the F-150 have risen, so has the opportunity for a midsize pickup to fit below the F-150 without detracting from it.
Ford and Fiat Chrysler's Ram brand have abandoned the midsize pickup market in recent years, leaving it largely to the Toyota Tacoma and the recently reintroduced Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.
Challenge to Jeep?
Ford showed a Bronco concept at the 2004 Detroit auto show, which has fueled rumors since then that the vehicle would eventually return to the U.S. It was discontinued in 1996, two years after O.J. Simpson famously led police on a low-speed chase through Los Angeles in a white Bronco.
The Bronco likely would be a version of the Ford Everest, an Australian-designed, body-on-frame SUV that’s made in Thailand. The Everest, which is built on the same platform as the Ranger, was redesigned this year.
Car and Driver called it “the perfect vehicle for folks who value rough country prowess over cute-ute deception,” complaining that North American buyers can’t get it.
A rugged midsize SUV would allow Ford to more directly challenge Jeep, whose sales have been soaring. Ford converted the Explorer to a unibody architecture in 2010, a move that has quadrupled sales of that vehicle since, but hindered its ability to attract buyers who actually want to drive off-road.
The Detroit News first reported the Ranger discussions Tuesday evening. A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment on the plan.
The UAW is negotiating new wage and benefit contracts with Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, with jobs and employment security a top priority. The union's contract with the Detroit 3 expires on Sept. 14 and the pace of talks is expected to accelerate over the coming weeks.
“We will move production of the next-generation Ford Focus and C-MAX, which currently are built at Michigan Assembly Plant, beginning in 2018,” Ford said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We actively are pursuing future vehicle alternatives to produce at Michigan Assembly and will discuss this issue with UAW leadership as part of the upcoming negotiations.”
UAW leaders have said they are confident Ford will continue to operate Michigan Assembly past 2018 with different products. The Ranger likely would not be enough by itself to keep the plant running, meaning other vehicles would need to be assigned to it as well.
In order to sell the Ranger in the U.S., Ford would need to build it domestically to avoid the 25 percent tariff on imported trucks known as the chicken tax.
Automakers have sold 211,797 midsize pickups this year through July, compared to 1.2 million full-size trucks. The Tacoma accounts for about half of all midsize pickup sales in the U.S. this year.
Ford sold nearly 350,000 Rangers to U.S. buyers in 1999, its peak year. But volume dropped to 70,832 in 2011, when the plant that built it in St. Paul, Minn., closed.
Ford’s truck group marketing manager, Doug Scott, told USA Today last year that Ford was considering bringing a smaller pickup back to the U.S. but that its price and size would need to be different enough from the F-150 to make it worthwhile.
"We're looking at it,” Scott told the paper. “We think we could sell a compact truck that's more like the size of the old Ranger, that gets six or eight more miles per gallon [than a full-size truck], is $5,000 or $6,000 less, and that we could build in the U.S. to avoid the tariff on imported trucks.”