Ford Bronco: The Legend Returns
The North American obsession with SUVs is long attributed to the 1990s and the explosion in popularity led by the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Peeling back the more superficial layers of that notion, you'll actually find that the enthusiasm behind the SUV craze goes back much further than that, to their stablemates, the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler.
Going back to the 1960s, the world was a much different place in terms of the automotive landscape than it is right now. Fuel economy, crash standards, and production optimization were not as obsessive as they are now, so risk taking and niche creating was much more widespread.
For the 1966 model year, Ford introduced the Bronco, a go anywhere utility vehicle that quickly came to match the playfulness and youthful rebellion of the times. From 1966 - 1996, the Bronco went through 5 generations, and at least one particularly famous police pursuit before being discontinued.
Ford at the time stated that the Bronco's discontinuation had nothing to do with the OJ Simpson incident, saying that sales had been dwindling before that, presumably due to consumer preferences shifting from single purpose, recreational vehicles into vehicles that could be everything to everyone, and a 2 door off roader with at best questionable on road manners was no longer for this new landscape.
Even so, in the time the Bronco was gone, consumer passion for SUVs/CUVs only grew, to the point that they are now the dominant vehicle segment. Enthusiasts have for years been bugging Ford for a return of the Bronco, looking for an alternative to the Jeep Wrangler which has stood largely alone in the segment as competitors dropped off.
In 2004, Ford teased the market with a Bronco concept vehicle that had the same retro-futurist design style that was present in the 2005 Mustang. Unlike the Mustang however, nothing really came of it, unless you count it's inclusion as the vehicle of choice for The Rock in the movie Rampage 14 years later in 2018.
Fast forward to 2020, when for some reason, Ford decided to officially announce the return of the Bronco on July 9th. What was seemingly a random date to some people, took a more sinister tone when others pointed out that date was the birthday of the previously referenced pursuit driver and alleged murderer, OJ Simpson. Adding to some of the backlash, was the choice to introduce 2 model lines of Bronco's, the Bronco & the Bronco Sport. The Sport model being a CUV based off the same platform and using the same power trains as the Ford Escape, but with the Bronco aesthetic treatment.
So, does that mean the new Bronco is doomed? No, not even a little bit. Social Gaffes aside, the decision to introduce a smaller, Escape based Bronco is just good business for Ford. Not only does it open up the Bronco line to customers that may not want the size of the regular Bronco, but it also brings it down to a more reasonable price point. Obviously no one is going to take the Sport model rock crawling, or down the Rubicon, but 90% of Wranglers never leave the pavement either.
In all honesty, the Bronco's biggest hurdle to overcome is the current situation created by the pandemic. Worldwide supply chain issues, specifically with regards to microchips that are the brains for the many systems in modern vehicles, are extremely strained right now. Ford needs to make sure that dealers don't gouge customers with "market adjustments" because of the shorter supply. Vehicles like this are often rolling billboards that make or break the success of a vehicle, especially early on.
Ford's already tackled the challenges of fuel economy, crash standards, production optimization, social media & optics, it just needs to keep it going on long enough for consumers to actually get the vehicles, and then just maybe, we witness the rebirth of a legend.