Nearly six months later than planned, Ford has finally launched production of the all-new Bronco sport-utility vehicle, to the relief of company planners, as well as the 100,000 customers who have placed orders and, in many cases, have been waiting since last year to take delivery.
A variety of problems led to the delay, including pandemic plant shutdowns and glitches impacting production of the SUV’s removable roof. The question is whether Ford will be able to meet its latest targets at a time when it has repeatedly halted production of the big F-150 pickup and other models due to ongoing semiconductor shortages.
Mark Grueber, a marketing manager who actively pressed Ford to bring back the Bronco badge after a 25-year absence, described himself as “ecstatic,” as he stood alongside the assembly line at the Michigan Avenue Plant in Wayne, Michigan on Monday morning. In a variety of colors and body styles, Broncos shared space on the line with Ford’s midsize Ranger pickup.
Back to nature
The rugged Bronco was one of the first truly mass-marketed SUVs, giving everyday motorists the ability to go pretty much anywhere, on-road or off. But the last one rolled down the very same line on June 12, 1996, Bronco replaced by the Explorer, a more street-friendly model.
Since that time, Ford has substantially expanded its line-up of SUVs, from the entry-level EcoSport to the big Expedition. But so have competitors hoping to take advantage of a massive shift from passenger cars to light trucks.
Ford planners, like Grueber, saw an opportunity to get back to basics with a new Bronco offering more serious off-road capabilities than most of the car-based crossovers now on the road. Make that Broncos, plural. The smaller Bronco Sport launched late last year. Now comes the larger Bronco, both in 2- and 4-door configurations.
Whether by smart planning or just dumb luck, the timing couldn’t be better. By the millions, Americans “want to get back to nature,” said Grueber, and they want vehicles “that can take them out on an adventure.” The trend has been growing for several years, he added, but “the pandemic accelerated it.”
Bronco nearly broke the Ford website
Ford isn’t the only automaker hoping to cash in on the trend. Automakers including Jeep, Land Rover, Toyota, Nissan and Honda have all introduced new off-road models or added special versions of existing products, such as the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness.
Initial numbers suggest both the all versions of the Bronco are delivering what Ford expected. Sales of the Sport model have been solid, and demand for the bigger 2- and 4-door models have been just as strong. The day Ford began taking online reservations “It nearly broke our website,” recalled Grueber. Of the 190,000 motorists who placed a $100 deposit, 100,000 of them have now completed orders and are waiting for delivery.
Until last week, however, it wasn’t clear when that might happen.
Supplier problems solved — for now
Ford revealed last December it was struggling to get a steady, reliable supply of those removable roofs. The automaker won’t identify which vendor was causing the trouble but insiders point to Webasto. Ford finally sent teams of its own engineers and manufacturing specialists to help the supplier resolve its problems.
Last Friday, convinced it would be able to keep production going, Ford management gave thumbs up and, on Monday morning, the first Broncos earmarked for customers began rolling down the Michigan Avenue Plant line.
That could be critical for Ford’s bottom line. The base 2-door Bronco starts just under $30,000. But most of the orders in hand are high-level trim, loaded up with features and options that can push will into the $40,000 range — and beyond.
While the roof problem may be resolved, industry experts will be watching to make sure Ford can handle production of the rest of the big SUV. The Detroit-area automaker has faced a variety of problems during the last several years, with major quality glitches impacting the launch of products such as the latest generation Ford Explorer and the new Lincoln Aviator models.
While Grueber wouldn’t go into specific details, he suggested that Ford is “making sure we learn all the lessons from past launches.”
Sidestepping semiconductor shortages
But some things are out of the automaker’s control. Like its competitors, Ford has been struggling to get all the semiconductors needed for its increasingly high-tech vehicles. It has been forced to idle production of a number of products — including the high-profit F-Series pickup — in recent months. CEO Jim Farley has warned that could cause a big hit to earnings for the rest of this year.
To avoid further delivery delays, however, Grueber indicated that Ford is diverting chips from other product lines to keep the line rolling with Broncos.
The first of the new SUVs should be reaching dealers — and anxious customers — within a matter of days.