Bronco is more than a ute, it's a brand
When Ford Motor Co. unveils the all-new, 2021 Ford Bronco on July 13, it will be more than a rugged SUV. It will be a brand.
Like Ford’s Mustang sub-brand which now includes an electric SUV in addition to a stable of two-door muscle cars, the four-wheel-drive Bronco brand will include a truck-based SUV in two-door and four-door trim, and a Bronco Sport SUV based on the unibody Ford Escape. Customers will also have access to off-road parks, driving instruction, an online community and apparel.
The outdoor SUV brand — complete with the “Built Wild” marketing tagline — will be a key ingredient of Ford’s evolutionary, three-pronged product strategy built on SUVs, the Mustang sport coupe and pickups. Ford will no longer produce sedans for the U.S. market.
Echoing Mustang, the Bronco brand will be emotionally anchored in 1960s nostalgia when Ford introduced the first “sport utility vehicle” as an off-road, Jeep-inspired lifestyle vehicle. The 1966 Bronco was introduced just a year after the Mustang set the performance world on fire with an affordable, drop-top muscle car.
“Bronco gave rise to the fun and versatile off-road SUV in 1966, becoming the first enjoyable sport utility vehicle for those who wanted to live, work and play outdoors,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer. “Like the original, the all-new Bronco family is engineered to take you to epic places, with capability to deliver confidence on any type of terrain.”
Like the original, the Bronco brand supports a race car — the Bronco R — for the grueling Baja 1000 off-road race. The Bronco R made its debut last winter at the famed Mexican endurance race. A Bronco won the Baja 1000 in 1969, the first time a production vehicle had ever won the race — a record that stands to this day.
Ford’s 1960s success runs deep through the brand. Its halo Ford GT supercar — in production since 2017 — builds on Ford’s historic 1966 Le Mans 24-hour win. The Bronco was launched in 1966 and the Mustang in 1965.
"The mid-1960s were very good years for Ford," said IHS Markit principal auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. "If you’re a traditional automaker, you have to evolve your brands. Ford is talking about its past and future at the same time."
Though the Bronco name has been out of circulation for 25 years, it still peppers popular culture. It’s appeared in 1,200 films, as John Paul II’s Popemobile in 1980, not to mention the infamous 1994 O.J. Simpson chase.
Under the Built Wild tagline, the Bronco brand will seek to build an off-road and virtual community for owners that includes outdoor adventure playgrounds and social media.
Dubbed Off-Roadeo, the playgrounds will have four locations around the U.S. starting in 2021 and will be a place where owners can test their steeds — or get driving instruction — on challenging terrain similar to public Michigan parks like The Mounds near Flint or Jerome’s Bundy Hill. No word yet on whether one of those locations will be in Michigan.
When they’re not at play, Bronco enthusiasts can tune into Bronco Nation (www.thebronconation.com), an independent online community. It’s a forum for owners and enthusiasts to share off-asphalt adventures as well as vintage Bronco vehicle information and event calendars. Ford promises Bronco brand apparel, too.
“Bronco delivers on the common thread desired by enthusiasts — authenticity,” said Ford marketing manager Mark Grueber. “Building Bronco as Ford’s distinct outdoor brand includes engagement that extends far beyond ownership.”
In addition to helping re-order Ford’s lineup for an SUV and electric future, Bronco brand wants to capitalize on the "overlanding" trend. Made popular by the Jeep Wrangler, overlanding is an outdoor lifestyle of traveling around the country to often remote locations.
"There is a commonality in American culture going back decades that we want to go places, we want to explore," said IHS Markit’s Brinley. "The Bronco very much taps into that American psyche."
While more details of the Ranger pickup-based Bronco will be forthcoming July 13, we do know the two-and-four-door Broncos will come standard with 4x4 drive as well as removable body panels like the Wrangler.
The Bronco Sport, to be unveiled the same day, will seek to capitalize on this appeal as well, though it will be based on the same unibody architecture of Ford’s popular Escape crossover.
With the introduction of Bronco Sport, Ford will bifurcate the compact SUV segment. The sleek Escape will be aimed at urban commuters, while the Bronco Sport — complete with boxy design cues from the Bronco — will appeal to a more niche lifestyle owner.
"As Ford’s lineup changes, it’s not enough to offer another SUV," said Brinley. "You have to do something different if you want to keep your buyers. People want to feel special about their vehicles whether they are sedans or SUVs. Bronco hopes to make that emotional connection using a great history."
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.