Ford just revealed 2021 Bronco: Why this new model is different
The Ford Bronco, an iconic American off-roader, has re-emerged after a 24-year absence with its public debut Monday evening in a series of 3-minute stories created to run on three leading Disney-owned TV channels and YouTube.
Fast Company magazine called the unique strategy "audacious."
The theme: Celebrate adventure, live life and find a way to unplug.
"Our customers were looking for something rugged, they were looking for a vehicle that they could work on the ranch with — but would also take them to a trout stream or to a trailhead," Joy Falotico, chief marketing officer at Ford Motor Co., told Autoline. "The Project name was 'GOAT' — for 'goes over any terrain.'"
Ford tapped a country singer and two rock climbers to talk about the Bronco lifestyle in an effort to target consumers who enjoy hiking, cycling, skiing, rock climbing, rock crawling, kite sailing, surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, camping and pretty much every rugged adventure imaginable.
“I’m always seeking simplicity yet my life is anything but simple," says Kip Moore, 40, as he's shown removing doors and the roof of a four-door Bronco and hanging out by a lake at night.
"But the wilderness has taught me to be present," he said. "I love waking up with my feet in the dirt. I love hearing the sounds. It always brings you back to the center. That’s why I’m out here so much seeking to run back into that elusive joy that lies in simplicity."
Moore's spot was created to air during the Country Music Association's "CMA Best of Fest" show on ABC at approximately 8:09 p.m.
About two minutes later, professional rock climber Brooke Raboutou, 19, appears in a spot created to air during “SportsCenter” on ESPN.
“One thing that I feel about being in nature is that I’m always my happiest self. Being in the outdoors is just like a deep breath to recenter my focus," she says as she's driving a Bronco Sport over mountains.
In the the final installment, Oscar-winning director Jimmy Chin, known for his rock climbing photography and world travels, created a piece to run on the National Geographic channel during "National Parks: Yosemite" at approximately 8:13 p.m.
“I’d always found that, you know, the harder a place is to get [to], the more I enjoy going there. Because there’s a process to it. Some of the most interesting challenges to overcome are just getting there," he says while driving up a narrow two-track mountain trail in a two-door Bronco.
Photography for the short stories was co-created by Chin.
Ford has said it plans to challenge Jeep, especially in the off-road market.
"The (Jeep) Wrangler will always have its loyal following," said Martin French, U.S. managing director of Berylls Strategy Advisors, an automotive consultancy in Royal Oak. "But the icon is back with vengeance. Ford means business. This is the shot in the arm that consumers and dealers want and need."
The Bronco, built from 1966 to 1996, developed a cult following and now commands high prices from collectors. Ford said the return of the SUV family comes in response to pleas for an update.
No question, the approach to reintroducing Bronco is unprecedented.
Ford has gone dark on Facebook ad-buying as part of a 30-day pause along with other global companies encouraging the social media giant to take responsibility for damaging content. Still, this Disney partnership, which involves the company's social network sites, is expected to drive $100 orders, Ford said.
Consumers will see the small Bronco Sport SUV in showrooms later this year. The two-door and four-door Bronco will be released in the spring of 2021.
Everything is designed based on the study of real people, Ford said.
"We started this project several years ago," said Winston Landin, Ford global director of consumer insights. "The foundational principle in the beginning was really the fact that the Bronco had already been a brand and there’s a strong heritage around the Bonco. That's important because the vehicle would need to deliver what’s true for the Bronco — capability, durability and of course the design. There's a lot of emotional connection that people had with this specific brand."
From there, Ford designers spent thousands of hours in the field.
"We have done a lot of observation," Landin said. "For example, we spent time with customers during a whole weekend. We would start on a Friday and go snowboarding, go on off-road adventures, hiking and bike trails and camping."
On some days, members of the focus group would announce they planned a midweek escape after work and the Ford team would follow along. They watched how equipment was loaded, where people stepped to tie equipment to the roof, how they held onto the vehicle when it's off road and who they called to join them on adventures, he said.
The key is identifying so-called "pain points" and eliminating them.
Ford observers noticed immediately that the mirrors on removable doors needed to be relocated so drivers weren't going without mirrors or forced to buy aftermarket parts. So that element was redesigned.
The issue of removable doors also created challenges. People expressed concern about leaving doors at home on trips and feeling vulnerable, so Ford figured out a way to store the doors on the vehicle.
Bianca in mind
Paul Wraith, Bronco chief designer, said the company had a target customer.
"It was not just some made up person but a real human called Bianca based down in L.A.," he said. "She was a nanny. Like most nannies, she’s living in an employer’s home. By day, she’s driving around with her employer’s kids. So her vehicle needs to be sensible, as we’d all hope. By evening, she’s like all nannies on the planet — she’s off."
So the issue, Wraith noted, is how to get doors and equipment on and off a Bronco easily for someone who is just barely 5 feet tall.
"And where are those doors going to go? She doesn’t own a house. She doesn’t have a garage," he said. "She’s the hired help."
In addition, the Ford team noticed that people who like adventure activities take a lot of equipment with them to stay connected with friends and family through social media, not just cell phones but camera equipment and more for frequent posting. So the dashboard is designed to provide power and not need cords.
"Those learnings we all got from following and spending time with people," Landin said.
A sense of safety felt dominant during field studies, especially with extreme athletes.
Again and again, Landin said, the issue of safety and a safe escape resurfaced. Drivers wanted to never worry about navigating snow or ice or water or mud or sand or rock.
"The vehicle has to get out of extreme terrain," Landin said. "Although most people know they are probably not going to have to utilize that. It was a common theme."
In recent years, Ford has made a science of observing its customers and potential customers like mice in a lab. That means studying habits, lifestyles, challenges.
The unveiling of the all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport comes at a crucial time for Ford. Its executives have predicted bold gains in a market segment that has room for growth.
The Ford Bronco will be built at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne. The Bronco Sport will be built at the Hermosillo plant in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.
Ford has said it is expecting to report a $5 billion loss for second quarter, so this high-profile product plays an essential role in the company's portfolio.
The price for the two-door 2021 Bronco begins at $29,995 for the base model, including destination fees. The four-door base model is $34,695 including fees.
F-150 debut, too
This was the second major reveal from Ford within three weeks. The company's first-ever online-only reveal, a 35-minute pre-recorded pitch for the for the 2021 F-150 pickup livestreamed on social media, was held on June 25 and hosted by Denis Leary.
The coronavirus pushed back plans for Ford as well as other automakers.
The company initially announced the Bronco reveal for July 9, which fell on the birthday of O.J. Simpson, perhaps the most famous Bronco passenger of all time. After questions raised by the family of murder victim Nicole Brown Simpson as well as the connection to domestic violence raised by UAW leaders and members, the company rescheduled.
Back to the future
"The period of 1964 to 1969 were glory days for Ford Motor Company as we introduced the Mustang, the Bronco, GT40 and defeated Ferrari at Le Mans," said Ted Ryan, Ford archives and heritage brand manager. "We're reliving that time period, complete with civil unrest as a backdrop."
"I see that same energy and creativity at Ford now as we introduce the Mustang Mach-E, Hybrid F-150 and the all-new Bronco while investing in autonomous and electric. History is repeating," he said. "But the engineering going into this new Bronco is so much more powerful than what we were able to put into the vehicle in 1965. The off-road capability has been a North Star for the program."
Free Press staff writer Mark Phelan contributed to this report.