We talk a lot about the Ford Ranger at Autos Cheat Sheet. Not the little workhorse that was discontinued in 2011 – though it was the last small truck offered in America, and it is dearly missed – but that forbidden fruit the T6 Ranger, a rugged smallish (about the size of a ’90s-era F-150) truck that’s tough enough to keep up with the Toyota Hilux, and is sold in nearly every country in the world except the U.S. and Canada.
We reported on the refreshed model back in March, when Ford announced that a well-equipped Mexican-market four-door would cost around $26,000 – nearly $4,000 less than the cheapest crew-cab F150. And we could barely contain our jealousy when Ford mentioned that not one but two torquey diesel engines were offered, and are available mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It only got worse this summer when Ford of Australia trademarked both “Ranger FX4″ and “Ranger Raptor,” all but taunting us with what we’re missing out on. We’re not the only ones clamoring for an American Ranger either, a quick Google search and you’ll find dozens of pages discussing whether or not the truck will ever make it our way (spoiler alert: most people say it never will). But that may have changed overnight, because Automotive News reports that Ford is currently in talks with the United Auto Workers, and an American Ranger is now on the table.
According to insiders, the crux of Tuesday’s meeting was what to do with Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant once production of the current-generation Focus and C-Max is ends there in 2018. Next-generation models will be built elsewhere, leaving Ford with an open factory, and a workforce anxious to know what comes next. People have been quick to point out that Ford would never green light a USDM Ranger for fear that it would cannibalize sales from the F-150, but with America’s best-seller now changing hands for an average $44,000 per truck, the idea of offering a small truck in the $20,000 range suddenly doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
Making the prospect of an American Ranger even less scary to Ford is the renewed interest in small pickups, a segment Americans didn’t know they wanted so badly until it was gone. On top of the popular Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon (now offered with a diesel engine), and the Nissan Frontier, Toyota’s all-new Tacoma will likely attract even more attention from uncommitted truck buyers. There’s nothing an automaker hates more than to be absent from a competitive (and profitable) segment, so if small trucks continue to sell, Ford will have to enter the fray sooner or later.
And it looks like Ford has given the idea quite a bit of thought. Speaking with USA Today last October on the prospect of a small truck, Ford’s truck marketing manager Dave Scott told the paper:
“We’re looking at it. We think we could sell a compact truck that’s more like the size of the old Ranger, that gets six or eight more miles per gallon (than a full-size truck), is $5,000 or $6,000 less, and that we could build in the U.S. to avoid the tariff on imported trucks…”
While the T6 Ranger isn’t as small as the previous truck, success of the Colorado/Canyon has shown that today’s small/midsize trucks don’t have to be significantly smaller than their full-size stablemates. From what we’ve seen of the Ranger, it might be competitive enough as-is to woo buyers who want a new truck, but don’t want to go quite as big as the F-150.
The success of an American Ranger would by no means be a sure thing in America, but from Ford’s perspective, it may be its best option. It’s too late to develop an all-new model or completely retool the Michigan plant, and Ford probably isn’t prepared to drop billions on developing an all-new model from the ground up anyway. Plus the Ranger would need to be built in America to be priced competitively, and Ford just so happens to have a plant that it needs to keep open. While the conventional wisdom on a USDM Ranger has hovered around “can’t happen/won’t happen” for some time, Ford’s willingness to put it on the table now says a lot. The return of a small Ford pickup isn’t a sure thing yet, but it’s a lot closer to reality now than it was just a few days ago.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS
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