Blue Oval has high hopes with res­ur­rected Ranger

Brown­stown Twp. man owns first re­born mid-size pickup

The Detroit News - - BUSINESS - BY IAN THIBODEAU The Detroit News

Bruce Plumb’s 2019 Ford Ranger hadn’t even been fully reg­is­tered with the state of Michi­gan when he called Jan. 3 to put it on his in­sur­ance.

“They couldn’t find the VIN,” Plumb said, laugh­ing.

The 69-year-old Brown­stown res­i­dent is the first per­son in North Amer­ica to own the re­born Ranger, the mid­size truck Ford Mo­tor Co. of­fi­cially re­vived in Jan­uary. The au­tomaker is prun­ing sedans and small cars from its lineup in fa­vor of larger, more prof­itable trucks and SUVs so it can fund bets on elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles and mo­bil­ity ven­tures.

The Ranger is at the fore­front of that push. Ford of­fi­cials say more than 300,000 peo­ple have in­quired about the truck — com­ing off an eight-year hia­tus — on­line or at deal­er­ships. The au­tomaker is ad­ding a Sat­ur­day shift at its Michi­gan As­sem­bly Plant in Wayne so it can make more of them. Ex­perts and an­a­lysts say the ve­hi­cle could be a boon for the au­tomaker that’s been thin on new prod­uct for the last cou­ple years.

Plumb got his “shadow black” Ranger Lariat Su­perCrew with the off-road pack­age just a day af­ter his dealer at Bill Brown Ford in Livo­nia called him about the four-door pickup.

“I told him if they ever built a four­door Ranger, I’d buy it,” Plumb said. He took reg­u­lar drives late last year past Ford’s Michi­gan As­sem­bly Plant in Wayne where the trucks are built just to see if he could get a look at any parked out­side the plant. “I was will­ing to take the first one I looked at.”

Ford is re­ly­ing on en­thu­si­asm like Plumb’s as it re-en­ters the mid­size space. Ford is trail­ing cross-town com­peti­tor Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. as well as Toy­ota Mo­tor North Amer­ica to the mar­ket. The by­gone Ranger that Ford sold un­til 2011 was known as an af­ford­able, re­li­able main­stay in the lineup. The 2019 model is big­ger and more ex­pen­sive than the old mod­els, and it’s more tech-packed than most of the com­pe­ti­tion.

GM’s mid­size trucks help it claim the crown for sell­ing the most pickup trucks in the U.S. Ford claims peren­nial lead­er­ship as the coun­try’s best­selling pickup name­plate through its F-Se­ries, sell­ing more 909,000 copies in the U.S. last year. But it hasn’t been safe from barbs from the com­pe­ti­tion over its slug­gish de­ci­sion to bring the Ranger back — no­tably from GM Pres­i­dent Mark Reuss.

“Wel­come to the party,” he quipped at an event ear­lier the week tout­ing GM’s heavy-duty pick­ups. “You’re only five years late and half a mil­lion trucks be­hind.”

Ranger has room in the mid­size space to scoop up sales, ac­cord­ing to Michelle Krebs, in­dus­try an­a­lyst with Au­to­trader. Mid­size truck buy­ers tend to be less brand loyal than those who buy full-size pick­ups, though Ranger could be a tough sell as it’s higher-priced than most of the mid­size com­pe­ti­tion.

“The Ranger has ex­tremely high name recog­ni­tion,” she said. “Some peo­ple didn’t know it ever went away. But they hemmed and hawed about mak­ing the de­ci­sion to do this.”

An­drew Frick, di­rec­tor of U.S. sales at Ford, re­peated what other Ford ex­ec­u­tives have said in re­cent months: F-Se­ries dom­i­nates the pickup mar­ket. But there’s a lot of cus­tomers out there for the Ranger, and now is the right time for Ford.

For ex­am­ple, Plumb owned three Rangers be­fore he bought an Es­cape in the mid-2000s be­cause he needed a back­seat to cart around his grand­kids. Then he and his wife bought a 2009 Flex. His wife drives an Edge. He would have bought an F-150, he said, but it wouldn’t fit in his garage.

“I al­ways wanted some­thing with a bed,” he said. “It’s a great size. This fits in al­most any­body’s garage.”

Ford says it isn’t wor­ried about the Ranger eat­ing away at F-Se­ries sales. Ford set a F-Se­ries Jan­uary sales record last month in spite of the Ranger launch, Frick said. The au­tomaker doesn’t de­tail monthly sales fig­ures any­more, but he said Ford moved more than the tar­geted 1,200 Rangers off dealer lots in Jan­uary. The trucks sat an av­er­age of just seven days be­fore be­ing sold.

The launch hasn’t been with­out its bumps. Ford al­ready has re­called roughly 3,500 2019 Rangers be­cause of a pos­si­ble is­sue with the shifter. Ford also sim­pli­fied the num­ber of or­der com­bi­na­tions on the truck, of­fer­ing just one en­gine op­tion and up­set­ting some en­thu­si­asts be­fore the launch. Plumb said he was im­pressed with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost en­gine be­cause it feels pow­er­ful.

Ford hopes the mid­size truck might keep some cur­rent sedan cus­tomers in the dealer net­work in ad­di­tion to the peo­ple it sucks away from other brands.

“We’ve seen cus­tomers mi­grate from the car,” Frick said. “Those cus­tomers are go­ing some­where. They’re go­ing into util­i­ties and they’re go­ing into trucks.”

Pho­tos by Todd McIn­turf / The Detroit News

Bruce Plumb of Brown­stown Township is the first per­son in the na­tion to own the new-model Ranger. Ford has brought it back af­ter an eight-year hia­tus.

The new Ford Ranger pickup is big­ger than the orig­i­nal — and more ex­pen­sive.

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