Bronco might ride again at Michigan Assembly

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
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In addition to resurrecting the Ranger, Ford Motor Co.’s plans for the Michigan Assembly Plant may include bringing back a Bronco midsize sport utility vehicle, according to a report by Bloomberg News on Wednesday.

Ford Motor Co. dusted off its Bronco nameplate for a concept vehicle at the 2004 North American International Auto Show. Analysts believe a resurrected Bronco could help Ford take on Jeep.

The Detroit News first reported late Tuesday that Ford plans to again sell the Ranger midsize pickup in the United States and build it at Michigan Assembly in Wayne. Ford discontinued the small truck in 2011, but newer versions are sold in 180 markets around the world. They currently are built in Argentina, South Africa, Thailand and Nigeria.

The Bloomberg story, which cited an unnamed source who asked not to be identified, said the Bronco would be built on a pickup frame, allowing it to be built alongside the Ranger. Analysts say a second product at the plant like the Bronco could take up most of the volume at the plant. They see the Bronco as a more rugged mid-size utility to pair with its Explorer and other sport utility offerings to fight Jeep and help take advantage of the white-hot SUV segment.

“I think Ford has an opportunity to develop an SUV that’s got a little tougher image with a name that’s very well-recognized, for better or worse,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with “I think there’s room in their lineup for another (SUV) with a different flavor.”

Ford declined to discuss any plans. The automaker’s lineup includes the full-size Expedition, mid-size Explorer and compact Escape, along with the full-size Flex crossover.

Ford Flex sales have sunk 16.1 percent through the first seven months of 2015, while Expedition sales have fallen 10.9 percent, according to Autodata Corp. Explorer sales are up 18.1 percent through the first seven months of the year.

The Bronco, which drew national attention as the getaway vehicle for O.J. Simpson, was discontinued in 1996 after being built for 30 years at Ford’s plant in Wayne. Its successor, the Expedition, was also built in Wayne before moving to Kentucky Truck. Ford showed a Bronco concept at the 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Plans to resurrect the Bronco likely come as Ford watches Jeep’s sales success.

Jeep in July marked 64 consecutive months of year-over-year U.S. sales gains. Last month was Jeep’s best July sales ever thanks to offerings like the Wrangler, new Cherokee and Renegade. It has set a sales record in every month dating back to November 2013.

That success — and the success of the segment as a whole — is likely to continue.

“We don’t see an end yet to the growth in the sport utility segment,” Krebs said.

Ford has entered contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers. Plans to bring new vehicles to its Wayne plant are part of those talks. Ford announced in July it will end production of the Ford Focus and C-Max at Michigan Assembly in 2018; those cars likely will be built in Mexico.

A final product decision must be agreed to with the union, which will want to determine if the products best fit with the Wayne plant and its nearly 4,500 workers. The final decision must also be agreed to by Ford’s board of directors.

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