Ford revives Ranger amid truck sales boom

MICHIGAN • Big-truck king Ford Motor Co has been missing out on soaring mid-size pickup sales. It’s now bringing its Ranger model back to make up for lost time.

The American version of the Ranger debuted yesterday at the Detroit auto show — and going on sale next year — reverses course on Ford’s 2011 decision to depart what was then a declining market for smaller pickups in the first years out of the recession.

A few years later, General Motors Co (GM) launched the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, selling more than half a million units combined in the US and generating about US$17.5 billion (RM69.47 billion) in revenue.

Since GM’s models arrived in 2014, sales of mid-size pickups in the US have surged about 85%, as gas prices fell and trucks mounted a comeback.

While Ford once argued it was better off just selling more low-end F-150 trucks, the second-largest US automaker now sees opportunity in filling a void in its line-up.

Ford has “no regrets on exiting back in 2011”, Raj Nair, head of Ford’s North American operations, said in an interview.

“For us, it’s been a matter of timing about when to deploy a great truck we’ve had globally. And the timing is now.”

Truck Fever

With Americans snapping up pickups and SUVs, Ford is likely to find a receptive audience for the revived Ranger, according to Jeff Schuster, an LMC Automotive analyst.

But by the time the new truck arrives next year, most of the growth in the mid-size pickup market will have already happened, meaning Ford will likely have to pick off customers from rivals including GM and Toyota Motor Corp.

“It will be more challenging for the Ranger than it was for GM,” Schuster said.

“Instead of growing the segment, the Ranger is going to be taking sales from within the segment or from within Ford.”

Ford isn’t expecting the new truck to steal sales from the F-Series, the franchise player that generates most company profits.

The automaker anticipates the truck will capture customers com- ing out of cars and SUVs, as the new Ranger is more aimed at weekend warriors who live in cities and spend free time off-roading and camping.

“This isn’t necessarily for an F-Series customer,” said Todd Eckert, Ford’s truck marketing manager.

“We see this as an opportunity to bring back some of our former Ranger customers and also to attract new customers.”

Some analysts question what’s taken Ford so long to bring back the Ranger since it has continued selling the truck in other parts of the world and updated its design a couple years ago.

The automaker will begin producing the truck at a factory in Michigan later this year before it goes on sale in the first quarter of 2019.

‘Way Late’

“To walk away and then take so long to finally figure out that they should jump back in — they are definitely way late,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive.

Ford rejects the idea that the Ranger is arriving late to the mid- size pickup party.

LMC predicts segment sales will shrink to about 428,000 units this year before resuming growth in 2019.

“The market is still significantly smaller than is used to be in its heyday,” Nair said.

More than one million mid-size trucks were sold in 2000, according to researcher Autodata. Ford also needed time to Americanise the Ranger it sells overseas.

The US model has distinctive styling in the front and rear, with a doubled-domed aluminium hood and a tailgate stamped with the Ranger name.

Under the hood, Ford removed the diesel engine it sells internationally, replacing it with a 2.3-litre turbo-charged V-6 also found in the Mustang sports car.

It’s also outfitted the truck with a rugged steel bumper mounted to the frame.

Designer Max Wolff crafted the pickup’s tough-mudder looks in Ford’s Australian styling studio. “We definitely didn’t want it to look like a small F-150,” he said. — Bloomberg