The United States is truck crazy. We love them. We lower them. We put lift kits and big tires on them. We race them. We jump them. Lately, however, our love of trucks has been tempered by their ever-increasing price points. Additionally, our awakening of environmental impact has made many reconsider the truck. So, car-based trucks of the past may be an alternative. The Ford Ranchero is something worth reviewing.
In the 1930s, there were a few car-based trucks floating around in Australia. They were hand made by custom coachbuilders as needed, by order. Ford capitalized on the idea in 1957 by offering a production run of a car-based truck called the Ranchero. The Australian market called them “utes”, short for Coupe Utility. The ute name stuck for the entire car-based truck category.
The first production Ranchero was based on a full size 1957 Ford. The car handling characteristics made it more refined on the roads than the workhorse trucks farmers used in the fields. So, it was a hit with the press and the media of the time. It was marketed as, “More than a car! More than a truck!”.
Competition heats up
Competition for the Ranchero would come in the form of the Chevrolet El Camino in 1959. Ford would battle it out with the El Camino, taking the Ranchero down in size to the Falcon chassis, and then back up to the Torino chassis. Later, other manufacturers would jump in the niche as well.
- Chevy El Camino/ GMC Caballero
- Produced: 1959-1960 then 1964-1987
- Dodge Rampage/ Plymouth Scamp
- Produced: 1982-1984
- Ford Ranchero
- Produced: 1957-1979
- Subaru Brat
- Produced: 1978-1987
- Subaru Baja
- Produced: 2003-2006
- Volkswagen Rabbit Sportruck
- Produced: 1978-1984
Through the years, Ford would build the Ranchero in Australia, the United States, Argentina.
A Slow Demise
Ultimately, in the late 1970s, Ford saw the market starting to shift away from utes and toward small trucks. Having just come out of the oil embargo, they were also concerned about fuel economy ratings. They decided to kill off the Ranchero and launch the Courier. The Courier was smaller and lighter. It was a wise call.
In the early 1980’s sales of the small trucks like the Chevy Luv, Ford Courier, Mazda B Series pickups started taking off. These vehicles offered the utility aspects of the bed, but also better gas mileage than larger trucks. It was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the ute category in the US. Consequently, it was only a matter of time before the utes all got phased out. Although Subaru would make a valiant effort to revive the utes, the effort was short-lived.
An empty niche
Today, there are no utes offered by the large manufacturers in the United States. The business for the niche has gone back to the custom builders or aftermarket and kit companies, such as Smyth Performance. That is not to say, however, that the market is not ready. The consumer today is apprehensive about paying the prices that the current pickup truck market is commanding. Manufacturers know that. Those manufacturers also face corporate average fuel economy standards that are monitored by the government. So, the market seems ripe for a small truck that rides on a fuel-efficient car platform.
Could Ford be thinking the same thing? Could it bring the Ranchero back? Recent automotive industry leaks suggest that Ford is considering bringing back a small pickup truck to slot in under the new Ford Ranger. The price point would be around $20,000. It is rumored to be on a Focus or Fusion chassis. Its name is not determined, but Courier has been floated.
Given the need for fuel-efficient trucks at a friendlier price point, all the leaked information seems to make sense. The Ranchero could be staged for a return, although its name may not be. The idea of this alleged car-based truck would be the answer to consumer’s needs at the moment, filling a niche that has been vacated in the United States.