Killing the Ranger: Behind the Bullshit

Ford Ranger

Yeah, Ford: You've got it all figured out. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the official word from AutoBlog.com this morning on Ford’s decision to kill off the Ranger in the United States. Let me warn you, if you ever enjoyed the compact pickup market, prepare to be enraged:

US-Spec Ranger to End Production

In case you’re too lazy to read the entire story, I’ll summarize:

  • Ford is ceasing production on the current Ranger in the US
  • Ford has a four-door, diesel-equipped ranger built in Australia that will service 180 markets around the world, except for the United States
  • The worldwide Ranger (according to Ford) is 90 percent the size of an F-150
  • Ford says it has research confirming that people weren’t buying the Ranger because it was a pickup truck, but because it was one of the least expensive vehicles in Ford’s lineup
  • If you want an inexpensive vehicle, you can either buy the Fiesta or the Transit Connect

The response from the frugal Yankee: Horseshit.

Every single manufacturer has now bowed out of the compact pickup market in the United States. This was a segment that, for at least 20 years between the late 1970s and the late 1990s, was the low-priced, useful, fun, cool alternative for young people that were priced out of the full-size pickup truck market.

When the “new” Ranger debuted in 1993, George Bush was president. The first one.

Despite the fact that Ford didn’t perform a single major revision to the Ranger since the 1994 model year, Ford still managed to sell 75,000 trucks a year. A whole lot of people were excited to hear that Mahindra was coming into the country to pick up the slack, but apparently that’s not happening.

So just when the United States needs a compact pickup truck more than ever, Ford is pulling the plug. Why? Because it’s convinced that it can’t make money on a small truck.

I can’t even begin to describe how stupid and ill-conceived that assumption is. OK, if you can’t make money on a small truck, how do you make money on a small car? How do you make money on the Transit Connect, which, apparently, about 11 hipster doofuses (myself included) seem to want to own? How much money does it take to develop a new, ladder frame pickup truck powered by the same line of four- and six-cylinder engines you’re pushing out already?

Here’s the big question: How much money could you possibly make by understanding that the stripped-down, loss-leader 2WD, vinyl-clad bargain truck represents about 1% of sales, while the fully loaded version with 32-inch tires, 4WD and a fancy interior — which costs next to nothing, yet provides dealers and the manufacturer with fabulous profit — makes up the lion’s share of the market.

And this is the statement that floors me:  “[Ford’s Vice President of Global Product Development, Derrick] Kuzak notes that the compact pickup market in America has been declining for the past 15 years, dropping from eight percent of the industry in 1994 to around two percent today.”

Well, no shit. It’s because nobody’s producing a compact pickup anymore.

Look at what’s left of the segment:

Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon: Stillborn. Massive quality problems right out of the gate, which damaged the truck’s reputation from the get-go.

Toyota Tacoma: Approximately the same size as my 1989 F-150, the Tacoma with a four-cylinder, 4wd and a five-speed transmission delivers an abysmal 17 miles per gallon. These are the trucks that built Toyota’s brand here, and they’ve been so thoroughly bastardized they’ve become irrelevant.

Nissan Frontier: Based on the full-size Alpha platform that underpins the massive Titan, the Frontier hasn’t been a compact truck since 2004.

Dodge: No longer produces a compact pickup. The Dakota is — for all intents and purposes — what replaced the full-size pickup trucks of the last century.

Isuzu: A rebadged Colorado. Dead on arrival.

Mitsubishi: No longer produces a compact pickup.

Volkswagen: Left the market generations ago.

Nevertheless, there’s apparently a market for other compact vehicles, because manufacturers seem to be introducing them at a breathtaking rate. The goofy Kia Soul, for example, represents what some manufacturers considered to be a niche a few years ago, but turned out to be a thriving segment that makes up a huge portion of Kia’s sales.

Dumb manufacturers have been telling us for years that “Americans are no longer interested in (fill in the blank with one of the following: Hatchbacks, wagons, convertibles, coupes, small pickup trucks) and have been proven wrong again and again and again.

If I was a VP of something or other at Kia, I’d be busting my ass to develop a truly innovative small pickup truck that I could build at our nifty factory in Georgia, thereby avoiding the nasty import tariffs on trucks. And then I’d laugh until I peed my pants when Ford tried to figure out, “Hey, wha’ happen?”

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About Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald is an automotive writer, photographer and editor with credits in Hemmings Motor New, the Boston Globe, Forbes, the Washington Post, Esquire and BoldRide.com
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4 Responses to Killing the Ranger: Behind the Bullshit

  1. Jurgen Schultz says:

    You are correct, my Canyon has been reliable, but if feels a tad cheap. But what did I expect? I got what I paid for. I’m at the point where I begin eyeing the replacement vehicle. This is a two to four year process. Now, I am SOL. I was really thinking next generation Ranger 4×4…. Now my choices are the Toyota Mannattee, (where Pontiac’s plastic body cladding specialists went when GM shut down the Aztec) the Nissan not a Toyota, or another GMC/Chevy.

    My Canyon gets 22mpg (4cylinder, 2wd, 5 spd) — I want a 4×4 small pickup that gets 25mpg. It can be a 4 cylinder. The current Ranger is close. None of the others are. Yes, people are buying more full size trucks than small, as there is NO FREAKING DIFFERENCE. (well the full sized do get better gas mileage) Good grief.

    Jurgen
    PS- you talk funny and need some hair.

  2. Brent says:

    Google ads is directing me to Ford Canada’s webpage for the Ranger. LOL!

  3. Pete says:

    John Delorean is quoted as saying: “Small cars, small profits” . Automakers are back to their “bigger is better” train of thought. Look how big minivans have become.
    We’ve been conditioned to accept optioned up car because that’s all that’s available. Try finding any truck with a manual transmission.
    As for body styles that are “unwanted”, the manufacturers ought get their heads out of the sand. Just try finding a traditional station wagon. They could sell anything if they just marketed it right.
    I’m reminded of how I gave my bosss a ride home with his road bike in my 1997 Ford Taurus wagon. He was amazed at the ride and interior room. I replied “All this and 27 miles per gallon on a trip”
    It’s like the late fifties again where I’m forced to buy a big hulk.

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