Ford loads midsize Ranger with big tech features

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
The all-new 2019 Ford Ranger for North America is packed with driver-assist technologies.

Ford Motor Co.'s 2019 Ranger will be technologically far superior to the bare-bones pickups that bore the name for nearly three decades. The automaker hopes that sets the new midsize truck apart from the competition.

Expectations are high for the reintroduction of the Ranger, which debuted in January at the Detroit auto show and will hit the road early next year — the first new Ranger sold in North America since 2011. Ford officials and analysts say those expectations are fueled in part by buyers' desired for driver-assist and other advanced safety features that aren't offered on many midsize trucks.

That could give the Ranger an edge over the five existing midsize trucks: the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier. An unnamed midsize Ram pickup will be introduced within a few years.

"Customers have a wide range of needs, and they're really looking for a truck that can deliver all of it," Ranger marketing manager Chad Callander said in an interview. "People want a daily-use vehicle that gives them everything to make it easier to drive. Midsize buyers are saying they want all that, too."

At least 20 new features will come standard or as optional upgrades for an added cost.

The Ranger will be one of the first new vehicles Ford will sell with standard automatic emergency-braking on all trim levels — the XL, XLT and top-level Lariat. Blind-spot monitoring, automatic high-beams, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and parking aids are standard starting with the mid-level XLT. Customers can get systems to help handling in snow, rain, uneven terrain or sand on all three trim levels for added cost.

Callander told the Detroit News the Ranger's class-exclusive blind-spot monitoring can extend to cover whatever a driver might be towing. It will be standard on XLT and Lariat trims.

Midsize trucks haven't exactly been known for their advanced features. 

People look at the 2019 Ford Ranger pickup on display at Cobo Center January 20, 2018, during the first public day of the North American International Auto Show.

"The segment is almost prehistoric," said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis with AutoPacific Inc. "There's a lot of opportunity within the segment to be able to stand out, whether we're talking safety or infotainment. There's definitely some unexpected white-space."

To get driver-assist features on nearly any vehicle, consumers have to put extra money on the hood. Despite that, automakers and analysts have said that consumers want the potentially life-saving technology. 

Among the mid-size trucks currently on the market, only the Tacoma or Ridgeline offer automatic emergency-braking, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high-beams, adaptive cruise-control or other safety features. The Tacoma is the only model to have autonomous braking, adaptive cruise-control, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beams standard across all trim levels — which beats what Ford will offer standard across its Ranger lineup.

But the Ranger is expected to have blind-spot monitoring with trailer coverage, hill-descent control and power outlets in the truck bed either standard or optional for a charge across the Ranger trims, which the Tacoma doesn't currently offer.

Offering advanced technology features can signal to customers that a vehicle had more time and research invested in it, said Stephanie Brinley, analyst with IHS Markit.

Sullivan and Brinley said the Ranger could raise the bar for mid-size trucks.

"This mid-size truck is different," said Brinley. The old Ranger "was inexpensive, and it was incredibly efficient. It played a different role than the pickup trucks today. I don't know how much success they'd have if they went that way again. The expectation for feature availability is completely different." 

Ranger customers, according to Ford and analysts, are looking for something less expensive than the $27,000 at which most full-size F-150s start, but without sacrificing capability. Midsize-truck buyers also want maximum utility and maneuverability out of their pint-sized hauler. But they also want a deal, the analysts said.

Callander says Ford knows there's a pricing sweet-spot for the Ranger.

"There's price sensitivities all over," he said. "We know that for this vehicle there is a desire for it to be a more affordable proposition than some other trucks. We’re implementing some really capable technologies, and we’ll be competitively priced with the rest of the market."

Pricing for the Ranger has not yet been announced. The Colorado, starts at $20,000. The Tacoma starts at $25,000.

Ford will also have to deliver a good-looking truck. Midsize-pickup buyers aren't going for brutish trucks they plan to beat up, according to Brinley and Sullivan.

"It's your interior and exterior designs and how well they connect," Brinley said. "Particularly in the interior. And it matters how easy it is to use those things. When you want to communicate technology to a consumer, technology doesn't make sense if you don't make the consumers' lives better."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau