If General Motors struck gold by reviving the Colorado and Canyon midsize pickups four years ago, then Ford had better hope that mine isn’t tapped out by the time the Ranger reaches dealerships early next year.
The segment exploded in popularity this decade — it has surged 78 percent since 2014 — but that growth appears to be running out of steam. Last year’s U.S. sales of 452,335 midsize pickups were less than 1 percent more than the year prior, and IHS Markit doesn’t expect the segment to top 480,000 sales through 2025.
“Ford is late to the party,” Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, said in an interview. “The question is: Is there room for yet another entry, or has the growth in that segment peaked? It’s quite possible that it has.”
Still, Ford believes next year is the right time to resurrect the Ranger nameplate, which was discontinued for U.S. buyers in 2011 while remaining in many global markets. Officials are positioning the pickup as a lifestyle vehicle that appeals to younger, active buyers who may not want the herculean hauling capabilities — and higher price tag — of a full-size F-150.
“It’s really just not about growth and the segment size itself; it’s about some of the dynamics that are happening within full-size,” Todd Eckert, Ford’s truck marketing manager, told reporters this month. “As transaction prices continue to grow, we see more of an opportunity than we did, say, five years ago, to bring in a midsize pickup … and really get to that entry-level buyer, who’s a very different customer.”
The Ranger, which Ford planned to unveil Sunday, Jan. 14, at the Detroit auto show, will differ significantly from the F-150.
Instead of the multitude of powertrain options on the F-150, the Ranger will come with one: a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
It includes rugged front and rear differentials from Dana Inc., which also supplies the Jeep Wrangler. An available electronic-locking rear differential should give the vehicle better off-road maneuverability than its bigger brother.
“These buyers have a work/play lifestyle that requires something of a different scale,” Eckert said.
Architecturally, the Ranger will differ little from the version sold outside the U.S., but it will be built in Michigan with parts sourced in North America.
Interior and exterior designs have been changed to give the truck a more rugged look for U.S. buyers.
“This is not about bringing the global Ranger here to the U.S. and selling it in our dealerships,” Eckert said. “This is about designing and engineering specifically for the North American customer and the conditions the trucks will be put in here.”
It will have lots of new technology, such as a standard 4G connected Wi-Fi hotspot, FordPass and precollision assist, as well as other optional driver-assist features.
It will come in three trim levels: XL, XLT and Lariat. Ford will sell two-door SuperCab and four-door SuperCrew configurations.
An off-road FX4 package will be offered across all trims. That will give drivers the terrain-management system first offered on the F-150 Raptor that includes four drive modes: normal, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, and sand. The package also includes a new “trail control,” which acts as an off-road cruise control by accelerating or braking to maintain a set speed while traversing gravel or mountain trails. It’s an extension of the automaker’s hill-descent control, which controls braking on steep grades. The FX4 package will also come with standard automatic emergency braking.
The Ranger also will have a blind-spot information system with sensors that can extend their line of sight to the back of a trailer up to 33 feet long. The system will be standard on the XLT and Lariat trims.
The interior includes an 8-inch touch screen, as well as two liquid crystal display screens in the instrument cluster. The rear seats offer waterproof underseat storage.
Ford said it expects the Ranger to have best-in-class payload capacity but declined to give details on power, fuel economy, dimensions or weight.
The company hopes to recapture some of the midsize pickup buyers it abandoned when it closed the St. Paul, Minn., plant that built the previous-generation Ranger. It also aims to conquest from other brands, woo some F-150 buyers — though not too many, and only if they otherwise would have defected to a rival brand — and even snatch sales from small crossover and sedan buyers.
It wants the Ranger to add to its strong overall pickup sales; its full-size F series has been the nation’s best-selling pickup for 41 straight years.
“We see an opportunity,” Eckert said. “It’s one thing to get on top, but it’s also about staying on top.”