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The Bronco’s absence will be Ford Australia’s lament

By Tim Robson, 10 Aug 2020 Car Opinions

The Bronco’s absence will be Ford Australia’s lament

The Bronco looks set to be a runaway success, which makes the decision to overlook right-hand-drive all the more bewildering

In many ways, the reborn Bronco feels like a real outlier play for Ford, which as a company is in a pretty weird place right now.

Like its rivals, it’s struggling to sell anything that doesn’t have a cargo bed, it’s tipping obscene amounts of money in the direction of electrification, and it’s jettisoning poor sellers over the side at a rate of knots as it trims the fat (and sometimes the flesh) off one of the oldest automotive nameplates left in the game.

Yet, the Bronco – based not on the all-conquering US-only F-150 truck, but a new evolution of the T6 chassis that lives under the humble Ranger and Everest – managed to stay the course, evading the accountant’s red pen even as widespread cost-cutting spread across the industry like a creeper vine.

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Ford’s always done the new car long-play drip-feed thing better than most, but the tease program for the Bronco felt longer than the final ep of Game of Thrones. Or even the marketing program for the Toyota Supra. Okay, maybe not that long, but it was a long one.

But when the covers finally came off, the wait was absolutely worth it. Fans dallied just long enough to whistle in admiration at the bold, brassy new interpretation of Ford’s 55-year-old Bronco nameplate before pounding their keyboards to pre-order a reported 250,000 of them.

Cleverly specced, thoroughly engineered and blessed with bold, overt styling, the Bronco is a ripper of a thing.

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Hose-out floors, LED floodlights, a cool slide-out tailgate tray, crazy-low off-road gear ranges, removable doors and roof and even a built-in bottle opener in the cargo area all point to a car that could attract a new type of buyer to the brand.

For a program that would have been funded (relatively speaking) by loose change found down the back of the couch in the staff common room, it looks as if it’s going to be a huge win for Ford against the run of play.

So, if it’s based on the Ranger T6 platform… why the heck isn’t it coming to Australia? That’s a good question.

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On the face of it, the Bronco – which will come in short- and long-wheelbase versions, as well as an Explorer-based SUV – should be a lay-down misère for Australia.

The T6 platform on which it sits was, after all, developed here, and so stands ready to offer a steering wheel on both sides of the car.

As well, the powertrains being offered in the Bronco – specifically a 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and a 2.7-litre V6 turbocharged V6 petrol engine - would pass muster in with Australian customers; we can, in fact, expect to see that V6 feature in the next Ranger.

All the hard work around emissions engineering, suspension calibration and the like would have been done for the left-hookers, so mirror-engineering a new centre console and swapping the mirrors over shouldn’t be that hard to do. Right?

Well…

While the specs of the US Broncos are impressive, we’re still talking about a vehicle that calls only the Jeep Wrangler a foe – and such a dedicated off-roader is simply not likely to sell in the volumes that Ford would need to offset the cost of engineering the Bronco in right-hand-drive.

As well – and despite the now-superseded ‘One Ford’ program the company instigated late last decade that partly sounded the death knell for the Falcon and Territory – there are just not enough right-hand-drive markets left in the world for Ford to sell the Bronco into in sufficient volumes.

MORE Where now for Ford Australia?

The Bronco would, in my view, dovetail in well with the Ranger-centric product mix in Australia, but could it sell enough of them to make a proper go of it?

Given the perilous state of the economy, the relatively high specs of the off-road versions and the potential for exchange rates to tank, the Bronco may end up simply pricing itself out of contention – and something that their rivals at Jeep can no doubt tell them all about.

It’s a double-edged sword for the local outfit which, without the Ranger, would be in all sorts of trouble on the sales front.

The Bronco would certainly add sparkle to a local roster that could really use it, but it’s not a decision that’s in their hands… despite the fact that the Bronco was engineered and tested here!

The appointment of Andrew Birkic, who is currently the chief product marketer of Ranger and Everest, as president and CEO of Ford Australia and New Zealand, could be interesting, though.

He would be uniquely placed to see how the Bronco could dovetail into Australia’s new car market, which looks vastly different than it did even ten years ago.

MORE Ford Bronco vs Jeep Wrangler

As it stands, we understand that Broncos are winging their way to Australia via private importers, who will do the hard work of converting them to right-hand-drive for local sale – at a considerable markup, if other converted imports are any guide.

The decision not to add a right-hand-drive Bronco was probably the correct one to make at the time the project was given the green light some five or six years ago… but I wonder if Ford is now starting to think ‘what if’?