For the first time since the mid-1970s, Jeep’s Wrangler is going to have some real and very likely tough competition.
Ford on Monday confirmed Detroit’s worst-kept secret -- the return of the Bronco in 36 months.
Journalists were not shown any pictures of the Bronco, so we don’t know how Ford’s designers will tap into the nameplate’s DNA.
But Ford has at least two big decisions to make with the new Bronco: styling and the number of doors.
The new Bronco likely won’t have many retro styling touches. Ford design director Moray Callum doesn’t do retro. Witness the new Ford GT, which doesn’t ape the original or the 2005 remake. Also, Ford has done retro before with mixed results. The 2002-05 Thunderbird, a homage to the 1955-57 models, sold poorly. But the 2005-14 Mustang, which paid tribute to the 1969-70 models, sold well.
The other big decision is whether it will be a two- or a four-door. Ford has never marketed a four-door Bronco. But two-door vehicles, especially off-roaders, don’t sell well. The Wrangler’s sales mix is roughly two thirds four-door, and more doors means Ford can charge a higher price. I’m going out on a limb and predicting the new Bronco will be a four-door only, at least at launch.
The original Bronco began in 1966 as a stripped-down, soft-top off-roader that sacrificed comfort and performance for massive off-road capability. It also came in several body styles, so Ford could add a wagon later. The Bronco’s run ended in 1996 when it was a bloated two-door version based on the F-150. Think of the O.J. Simpson Bronco.
Ford said little about the Bronco’s powertrains and suspension layout. But Ford’s Mike Levine confirmed that the Bronco and Ranger will share underpinnings and be body-on-frame vehicles. “That’s the only way you bring back the Bronco,” he said. Ford engineers can break new ground if they can engineer the new Bronco with independent suspension, instead of bulky solid axles.
Body-on-frame suggests the vehicle will be engineered to handle extreme off-roading, a notion put forth by Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas. “It's capable of conquering everything from your daily commute to gravel roads and boulders," Hinrichs said during Ford’s press conference.
So, now that Bronco is confirmed, it’s Land Rover’s turn to peel the curtain back on the upcoming Defender replacement. Land Rover’s U.S. dealers are begging the company to confirm the rugged off-roader for the U.S. in 2018 or 2019. But so far, Land Rover is saying little.
One thing is certain: SUV fans who take their vehicles off-road will have more choices in three years than they’ve had in the last 40.