Remember the days when an buying an SUV from Ford meant getting an Explorer? Over a quarter century ago, Ford’s suburban-friendly soft-roader ushered in the first great SUV boom; one that nearly disappeared in the early 2000s, came roaring back thanks to rock-bottom gas prices and the American public’s insatiable appetite for crossovers of all shapes and sizes. So as SUVs and crossovers continue to ascend, and the sedan transitions from a dominant species to an endangered one, Ford has decided to speed up the process and introduce four new SUVs within the next four years.
One of these new models will likely be a revival of the Bronco nameplate. In November, Ford and the U.A.W. tentatively settled on bringing a midsize pickup (likely the T6 Ranger, below) and SUV to the company’s Michigan Avenue plant to replace the current C-Max and Focus in 2018. Outside of the Mustang and Lincoln Continental, Ford’s car production will now be done outside the U.S., allowing the company to focus its domestic resources on trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
At this week’s Chicago Auto Show, Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president for sales, marketing and service laid out the company’s belief in the growing crossover/SUV market. According to Automotive News: “One of three vehicles sold in 2015 was an SUV, and that will grow to 40 percent of the market by 2020. Low fuel prices has helped the shift, but it is much more permanent,” and added that the sedan’s long reign is likely over. “Even when [fuel] prices start to rise, the shift will be from big SUVs to small SUVs, not back to cars.” LaNeve stopped just short of officially confirming the Bronco, only saying, “It’s a great nameplate,” when asked about its future.
So let’s say for the sake of argument that the Bronco is in the works. What are the other three new models? During his speech at last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford CEO Mark Fields announced that Lincoln would be getting a new SUV model to join the MKC, MKX, MKT, and Navigator. While there’s no word on what this new model would be based on, it’s a safe bet that this is the second of the new quartet.
Third (and perhaps most important) is a compact crossover to compete with the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, and just-redesigned Chevrolet Trax. Rival Chevy sold over 63,000 Trax models last year in a segment with no competition from Ford, and it isn’t likely the Blue Oval is going to let that happen much longer. A likely candidate for the job is the EcoSport (below), a European crossover based on the Fiesta that would fit the segment to a tee. Like the Focus, Fiesta, and C-Max, this European-bred Ford wouldn’t need much to make it U.S.-DOT complaint, and its seating for five and tall ride height look like it would be catnip to Americans in the market for a crossover.
That leaves the fourth new model, and so far Ford hasn’t so much as dropped a hint as to what it could be. For our money, we’d bet on a Focus-based model to slot between the EcoSport and Escape. But BMW has shown the world that you can build a crossover out of virtually anything and people will buy it, so it could be anything from a six-wheeled ultra-luxury Lincoln model to take on the Mercedes G63 6×6 (hey, we can dream…) to a jacked-up Fusion-based BMW “GT”-style vehicle. No matter what the new models are, Ford has now joined FCA in predicting a future where crossovers and SUVs will rule the roads. Kind of makes you want to go out and hug your car, doesn’t it?
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