Ford Ranger to carry Falcon ute’s load

Cheaper petrol-engined Ranger workhorse expected to take fight up to Toyota Hilux

Ford Ranger ute
Gallery4

FORD Australia is believed to be close to announcing a cheaper petrol-engined version of the Ranger trade ute to help it overtake the Toyota Hilux in the sales race – and also replace the iconic Falcon ute.

Details seen by Wheels show Ford is close to locking in running changes for the Ranger line-up, with revisions to engines and brakes to potentially accommodate a smaller 122kW/226Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder spark ignition powertrain, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.

Ford Falcon ute
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The move would also potentially allow Ford to plug a key product gap in its Ranger line-up to help it take up the fight up to the market-dominating Hilux – a base package that will compete directly with the price-leading $20,990 2.4-litre petrol-engined Hilux Workmate that carries a more than $8000 price advantage over the cheapest Ford-badged competitor.

However, the Ford Ranger’s performance will be well down on the Falcon ute’s 195kW/391Nm 4.0-litre in-line six that it is expected to replace once Falcon production ends in October.

Ford is locked in a neck-and-neck battle with the Hilux for the title as Australia’s best-selling trade ute. Year to date, Ranger is only 258 units behind Hilux on 4x4 sales, but 2754 units behind in the more workmanlike 4x2 sales race.

Ford Falcon ute
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Add the Falcon ute’s 1375 sales year-to-date – which a cheaper petrol-engined Ranger could soak up – and that 4x2 gap narrows to just 1379 units.

However, some Ford insiders are believed to be concerned that adding a cheaper petrol-engined version to Ranger is likely to erode some of the work the brand has done to build the pick-up truck’s market image as a more premium offering than Hilux.

Premium twin-cab versions of the Ranger, and direct rivals such as the Holden Colorado, Isuzu D-Max, Mazda BT-50, Mitsubishi Triton and Volkswagen Amarok are all strong sellers as buyers steer away from traditional passenger cars to higher-riding light commercial vehicles that now account for about 10 percent of new-car sales each month.

Toyota HiLux ute
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Later this year Volkswagen will introduce Australia’s most expensive trade ute, a V6-engined version of the Amarok that will nudge $70,000 – about the same price as a luxury-laden Lexus sedan – when it arrives.

The lack of restraint on high-priced trade utes hasn’t gone unnoticed at the more premium end of the market, with Mercedes-Benz teaming up with Nissan to build a Benz-badged, V6-engined version of the Navara ute that brings luxury levels of ride and cabin comfort to a class that traditionally has had its feet firmly set in worksite mud.

The Mercedes-Benz GLT, as the German spin-off is likely to be known, is expected to go on sale in Australia by 2018.

 

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Barry Park
Journalist

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