Ford's rugged Bronco SUV will return, according to labor leader

1993 Ford Bronco
Before there were Explorers, Escapes, and Expeditions, there was the Ford Bronco. The Bronco was arguably Ford’s first SUV, and it built a following thanks to its off-road ability and general ruggedness. Ford hasn’t built a Bronco since 1996, but the model may be coming back.

A hint at a possible Bronco return arose from some unlikely circumstances this week. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Ford for moving manufacturing to Mexico, most recently during the presidential debate last week. Ford will open a new plant there in 2018 to build the Focus and C-Max, which are currently produced at Ford’s Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. Trump’s comments provoked an interesting response from Bill Johnson, chairman of United Auto Workers (UAW) local 900.

“We hate to see the products go to Mexico, but with the Ranger and Bronco coming to Michigan Assembly that absolutely secures the future for our people a lot more than Focus does,” Johnson told the Detroit Free Press last week. This confirms Ford’s previous statements that it would replace the Focus and C-Max with different models, preserving Michigan jobs, as well as previous reports that both the Bronco and Ranger would be the replacements.

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Replacing the Focus and C-Max with the Bronco and Ranger (a mid-size pickup truck Ford hasn’t sold in the U.S. since 2011) at the Michigan factory seems plausible given the current state of the U.S. new-car market. Sales of small, fuel-efficient cars are down because of low gas prices and consumers’ infatuation with SUVs.

Ford can’t expect to sell small cars in large volumes, so it’s shifting production to Mexico to cut costs. The Bronco, meanwhile, will likely be more profitable, which is why Ford will build it in the U.S., and perhaps why Johnson said it “secures the future for our people” better than the Focus.

Rumors of the Bronco’s return have been persistent. They go at least as far back as 2004, when Ford showed a Bronco concept at the Detroit Auto Show. Both the Bronco and Ranger were mentioned in a contract with the UAW Ford signed last year, which reportedly stated that the Ranger would start production in Michigan by 2020, with the Bronco following sometime after that. Ford has not confirmed any reports or statements regarding the Bronco’s return.

A new Bronco could be a boon to enthusiasts. If Ford follows in the tire tracks of the original model, the Bronco should mark the return of an SUV with genuine off-road capability to the company’s lineup. We’ll be keeping a close eye on developments, so stay tuned.

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