Three years later, the Ranger, due in showrooms next month, is joining a suddenly crowded midsize segment. Ford is billing the Ranger as a rugged lifestyle vehicle that’s comfortable on sand, dirt or rocks and can ferry buyers — and their gear — on weekend camping trips or excursions to the beach. It’s a big shift from the yeomanlike F-150 that’s more suited for construction sites or lumberyards.
“Our research says the buyer isn’t someone who wants an F-150 and can only afford a Ranger; they want something different,” Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in an interview. “We felt Ranger would be much more of a personal-use, adventure product. It became a relatively easy decision.”
The midsize pickup segment has rebounded drastically since Ford closed its Ranger plant in St. Paul, Minn., in December 2011. It has more than doubled in size since 2014, to more than half a million vehicles this year, and is up 16 percent this year through November after rising less than 1 percent in 2017.
The long-dominant Toyota Tacoma is closing out its fourth consecutive year of gains, and General Motors, which bowed out only for a brief period, has sold some 600,000 Chevy Colorados and GMC Canyons in the Ranger’s absence. Ford also will face competition from the upcoming Jeep Gladiator, which is similarly aimed at adventure-ready buyers.
“We’re about to enter a golden era for lifestyle trucks,” Chase Disher, chief analyst at Autolist, said in a November study about the segment.
IHS Markit predicts only modest growth in the segment into the next decade to just over 600,000 vehicles, according to analyst Stephanie Brinley, which means the players would be fighting over existing buyers more than attracting new ones.
“The majority of the growth has already happened,” Brinley said. “Organic growth is not going to be easy at this point.”
The previous Ranger was regularly among the segment’s top sellers and No. 1 as recently as 2004. Ranger sales routinely totaled more than 300,000 a year in the 1990s before fading in the early 2000s.
Ford says it built 7 million Rangers from 1982 through 2011 and will lean on the nameplate’s history to help sell the new model.
Autolist says the Ranger is still the second-most recognized midsize pickup behind the Tacoma, despite being out of the market for so long.
If the new Ranger is to be successful, Brinley says, it likely will have to steal share largely from the Tacoma, the oldest product in the segment. Ford believes it has a good chance of conquest, saying that nearly 80 percent of early hand-raisers for the Ranger don’t own a Ford vehicle today.
LaNeve said he’s not concerned about Ford’s late re-entry relative to GM and is confident the arrival of the Ranger and Gladiator should drive more growth.
“You are going to continue to see proliferation in this segment,” LaNeve said. “This won’t be the end.”