Some hints about changes coming with the update to Ford’s biggest selling model here are starting to be aired.
MORE kit, more comfort but perhaps no more kapow nor any extra cogs – that’s the potential span of revision coming to the country’s favourite vehicle.
In confirming that the Ranger utility as we currently know it is on runout, Ford New Zealand boss Simon Rutherford has also started to let slip what changes will incur to freshen up the model that has, despite a slight slip in market conditions overall, maintained a massive sale presence here.
The big one is the tweaks seem to steer clear on the mechanical package – so, the 3.2-litre five-cylinder remains and so too the six-speed auto, with no update to the 10-speed transmission that goes into Raptor.
Is this enough to safeguard the model’s No.1 status, held so firmly since being wrenched from the Toyota Hilux four years ago?
Rutherford has also reaffirmed the brand’s expectation that the one-tonner will remain a sales giant here regardless of the push to bring sports utility models more to the fore, a strategy that has taken a big step up with arrival of the Canada-sourced Endura five seater.
“The segmentation as a whole is what drives us. Ranger is a great success, it’s a great truck. Customers love it and we want to keep on delivering that.
“As we go forward a full line-up of SUVs that covers all the angles of use is where we want to go, but in our case it doesn’t mean an immediate abandonment of other categories.”
However, Rutherford accepts that some SUV clientele might just as easily transfer their allegiance to the Ranger, which in its highest end formats has strong acceptance as an SUV substitute. He has seen firm evidence of this happening: Last year Ford NZ, as a bid to keep sweet during the down time between Territory’s end of production and the arrival now of Endura, gave owners of the Territory opportunity to transfer on favourable terms to other Ford product.
Many chose Ranger. How many will trade back into Endura is a question that the boss cannot answer, he admits it won’t surprise if some don’t stick with the truck.
“I think some will come back, they will be drawn by a vehicle that is based on a car, drives like a car and is not a truck. They’ll be weighing up that utility factor with refinement and comfort.”
Then again, Ranger’s success has largely being built on it easily being the most refined ute in the market; one also given more car-like comfort and safety features than other model – at least until the Mercedes X-Class came along.
Ranger faithful will doubtless be aware the mainly 3.2-litre five-cylinder line is now due for a big mid-life refresh. On top of this, there’s a new performance flagship in the Raptor, which stands apart by running specialist suspension, a 10-speed automatic and employing a twin turbo 2.0-litre diesel, which with 157kW and 500Nm has only slightly more grunt than the 3.2.
Questions for Rutherford: Will the updated Ranger’s arrival time in with Raptor’ – which seems set to come in August/September - will the five-cylinder engine gain extra poke (or that new gearbox in place of the current six-speed) and, conceivably, will Wildtrak regain placement as the top truck over the $85k Raptor?
On timing, Rutherford will say just this: “It’s going to be similar timing … later in the year is probably as close as I can say at the moment.”
On the change to mechanical makeup, content and styling? “There are quite a few changes, particularly to the high series. My view overall is that we have tried to hold on to everything that our customers say they really value, that’s the main thing.
“We’ve done a lot of work on it. We’ve looked very closely to where we are adding new capabilities and where we are holding onto capabilities the customers love. You’ll see that reflected in the market offer when it comes out.”
Are we going to see any major engineering changes? “I would say that we have got a winning formula, so we want to evolve that forward. It will be an expansion of our range , versus what we have today.
“What we are noticing is that as the segment grows, it’s becoming more fractured. We looked at what Wildtrak did a few years back, as a premium ute. We’re adding to that with Raptor and we are going to make Wildtrak more premium than it was.
“We will continue to evolve the mainstream product.”
However, it seems only Raptor is going 10-speed. To the question about Ranger adopting the new box, co-designed with General Motors. Rutherford replied: “Unlikely, but we’re going to have some options elsewhere.”
Ranger’s huge dominance of Ford sales – it never achieves less than 50 percent of monthly volume and sometimes reaches 70 percent share – has been the talk of the industry for years. So rival players say they would never allow one single model to become so crucial. Rutherford continues to express calm.
“I think that it is easy to point it out and say ‘that’s an issue’. We’re very focused on it.” Fact is, Ford in the US has always run the same way with it’s F-Series. “We know we are good at trucks. We know we are going to continue to be good at trucks.
“We’re not going to be arrogant about it. We just know that we really need to work on that.”
As a counterbalance, though, there is the push to promote the SUV talent, which spans the Fiesta-based EcoSport that has finally adopted an update – engine swap, new transmission, spare wheel plucked from the back door - presented in Europe 18 months ago, the Focus-derived Escape, the Endura (which is Mondeo-based) and the Everest, a spin-off from Ranger. Endura has to do well, the others are expected to pick up their game, too.
“We also recognise we have not had a mini SUV in the market for the past six months – now we have a new (updated) EcoSport. We have an Escape that we need to continue to work on (with recognition that its looks, being less modern than some rivals’, don’t help), we have new Endura and we will have a new Everest at the end of the year as well.”