When Ford announced it would finally pull the plug on the long-lived Ranger compact pickup a few years back, many expected the maker would simply replace it with the all-new Ranger model it had develop for worldwide use, launching it into production in Thailand in 2011.
Surprisingly, Ford stressed it had no intention of offering a new Ranger in the U.S. market, insisting that for the price it would have to charge for the global Ranger model buyers would all but certainly opt for the bigger F-Series, long the American market’s most popular truck. Indeed, there’s been a steady shrinkage of the compact pickup segment over the years, buyers either upsizing or abandoning trucks entirely, Ford officials insist.
So how respond to General Motors’ decision to deliver an all-new Chevrolet Colorado, never mind the ongoing presence of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier? By shifting into an entirely new direction, Ford officials hint, that was pioneered by Honda with its distinctive Ridgeline pickup.
In other words, what some are dubbing the Ford F-100 just might adopt a crossover, or car-based, platform, a senior marketing executive reveals. That might seem a surprise considering the mixed response the Honda Ridgeline has generated.
But, “The target consumers really don’t care, as long as a car-based pickup is durable and can haul what they need. Add a reasonable sticker, and that formula will work,” Doug Scott, head of Ford Truck marketing told Car & Driver.
That’s in line with comments by Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, who recently told TheDetroitBureau.com that the Detroit maker has not completely abandoned the idea of playing in the smaller pickup segment – if it can come up with an acceptable business case.
That’s been the big problem for a Ranger replacement. Curiously, over the years, “compact” truck sales have declined as the vehicles have gotten bigger – and added more content, something known as “feature creep.” The global Ranger, said Fields, simply can’t be produced in the U.S. for a price low enough to keep most buyers from just jumping to the bigger, more capable F-Series.
Or so goes the theory. Not everyone agrees. Some see a potentially lucrative opportunity if just the right package can be produced.
“Historically, if you go back to the ’80s, the compact or midsize pickup segment was bigger than the full-size segment,” said Chrysler’s Vice President of Product Planning Joe Veltri, adding that, “Based on our data, young males still aspire to own a pickup.”
In most instances, going to a car-based design is more expensive than the classic body-on-frame approach of a truck, but Ford appears to be thinking it may be able to tone down the classic capabilities, perhaps to 1,000 pounds of cargo and 3,000 pounds of towing capacity, and build in just enough features to keep those young males happy. Slick infotainment systems go a long way these days in appealing to Millennials.
Chrysler, it appears, is looking to take a similar approach, turning its Italian partner’s Fiat Strada into a modern version of the El Camino that would be marketed through the Ram brand.
Whether Ford might go for that distinctive design – reviving its own car/truck model, the Ranchero – is yet to be seen. The other options are to make a new compact look like a baby F-Series, an F-100 perhaps, or find something in-between, along the lines of the quirky Honda Ridgeline.
Pricing will be a critical factor. There are likely some buyers who would be willing to downsize even if the price came close to the current F-Series’ $24,000 base, especially if it meant a more fuel-efficient and maneuverable offering. But Ford appears to believe it can only sell a compact in real volume by dropping the price substantially.
“The challenge,” Scott told Car & Driver, is “making a business case out of it that makes sense. We’re still working on it.”
Tags: Ram pickup, auto news, car news, compact pickups, ford compact pickup, ford f-100, ford f-series, ford news, ford ranchero, ford ranger, honda ridgeline, midsize pickups, nissan frontier, paul a. eisenstein, paul eisenstein, ram compact pickup, small pickups, thedetroitbureau