Pandemic-related parts shortages forced Ford to announce the delay in the launch of its eagerly awaited Bronco SUV.
Automakers have been struggling to cope with the pandemic but continue to face shortages and spot factory shutdowns, often without notice. Only hours before announcing the delay of the Bronco launch until next summer, a senior Ford official told industry analysts that the rollout was “on track” for its original, spring timetable.
Ford has had a particularly tough year and continues looking for ways to cope with the coronavirus pandemic while also shoring up its weakened bottom line. The manufacturer says that while it has wrapped up a previously announced white-collar buyout program it now will terminate members of its contract workforce.
The Bronco is one of four critical new product lines Ford was planning to launch during the 2021 model year. The list also includes the Mustang Mach-E battery-electric vehicle and the complete makeover of the F-150 pickup. A second new SUV has been dubbed the Bronco Sport.
The bigger utility vehicle borrows the name of one of the first widely popular off-road vehicles and, like the original, will be offered in both 2- and 4-door versions. Production will take place at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, a half-hour west of Detroit, and, until as recently as last week, appeared to be on track to begin in spring 2021.
“The Bronco is on track to launch in spring.” Ford’s product development chief, Hau Thai-Tang told virtual participants in the Goldman Sachs Global Automotive Conference on Friday morning.
By the end of the day, however, the situation had changed and, “The all-new Bronco 2-door and 4-door customer deliveries will begin in the summer rather than the spring due to COVID-related challenges our suppliers are experiencing,” Ford said in a statement. “We are committed to building Broncos with the quality our customers expect and deserve.”
The specific problem behind the delay was not revealed, but it’s been reported that the company producing the Bronco’s removable top is facing supply issues. It is unclear whether Ford is waiting for the problem to be solved by that vendor or is looking for an alternate source.
Set to go up against competitors like the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender, the Bronco has been positioned as a rugged, off-road-capable utility vehicle. Major portions of the vehicle can be removed, including the roof, as well as the doors.
Like other manufacturers, Ford has struggled to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, implementing strict protocols meant to reduce the risk of infections on the shop floor. It has nonetheless faced disruptions on a number of occasions after resuming production last June after a two-month shutdown due to COVID-19.
It is by no means alone. Last month, General Motors had to cancel work at its big SUV plant in Arlington, Texas one weekend, while also shutting down its Chevrolet Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky for several days due to parts shortages.
Overall, U.S. inventories are running as much as 1 million vehicles below what would be considered normal, according to data from J.D. Power, IHS Markit and others tracking the industry.
“One of our local dealers normally has 700 to 800 vehicles in inventory,” said Tim Jackson, head of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, in a telephone interview. “He recently has had as little as 70 to 80 on the ground.”
For its part, Ford has struggled to keep up with demand for a number of its more popular products. It’s been particularly difficult with the F-150 during its 2021 model-year makeover.
The automaker was facing financial challenges even before the COVID crisis struck late last winter. It rebounded a bit during the third quarter as production and sales started to recover but the delay of the Bronco, even by just a few months, will hurt considering what it has hinted to be a large advance order bank.
Ford was already pushing to rein in costs under the recently retired CEO Jim Hackett. His successor, Jim Farley, is facing mounting pressure to shore up the company’s bottom line and rebuild the confidence of investors.
The company announced a new step on Friday, revealing plans to terminate contract workers who often spend years working alongside staff employees. But they face few protections and are expected to be let go with no severance and few benefits.
Earlier this year, Ford had announced a buyout for salaried workers. That program has been completed, according to the automaker, though further cuts yet could be announced in 2021.