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Open Diff: Are resurrected model names a good thing?

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1996 Ford Bronco Eddie Bauer. Photos courtesy Ford Motor Company, unless otherwise noted.

News broke earlier this month that two Ford models no longer sold in North America will be returning in the coming years. One is the Ford Ranger, a compact (or midsize, depending upon perspective) pickup last offered here during the 2012 model year, while the other is the Ford Bronco, which went out of production in 1996.

Ford wasted no time in introducing a replacement for the Ranger in markets outside of North America, with the latest Ranger model (designed by Ford Australia) entering production in 2011. Officially, declining demand led to its cancellation on these shores, but the real reason was financial: it costs nearly as much to build a compact pickup as it does to build a full-size, which makes the larger (and more expensive) trucks far more profitable.

2017 Ford Ranger

Ford’s latest Ranger pickup, at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

With Ford’s exit, the market for less-than-full-size pickups has been dominated by Toyota, though the Chevrolet Colorado (and its GMC Canyon cousin) have proven that demand for smaller trucks among North American consumers hasn’t waned. Ford wants a piece of that pie, so the Ranger is coming back, and will be built in Michigan alongside the new Bronco.

2004 Ford Bronco concept

2004 Ford Bronco concept. Photo by Y2KFirehawk.

Ford has confirmed the name, but the automaker hasn’t clarified exactly which version of the Bronco we’ll be getting in 2020. Renderings of the next Bronco abound on the internet, but these are no more than speculation, loosely based, perhaps, on the Bronco concept that Ford displayed during the 2004 auto show season. More likely, the next Bronco will be a revised version of Ford’s Everest SUV, built on the Ranger frame and already sold alongside the Ranger pickup in overseas markets.

2016 Ford Everest

Ford’s Rob Johnston introduces the 2016 Ford Everest in South Africa.

For buyers wanting a traditional body on frame vehicle, both the next Ranger and the next Bronco are potentially good news. Those expecting vehicles with retro styling, however, are likely to be disappointed, as single-market vehicles are rarely profitable in today’s global economy.

Ford’s last retro-styled Thunderbird certainly wasn’t a hit with consumers, but at least the styling paid tribute to the first-generation cars. Other cars, like the Daiwoo-built Pontiac Le Mans sold between 1988 and 1993, embraced the name but little else, and even the Holden-built Pontiac GTO had its detractors, something that may have been (partially) mitigated with some retro styling cues.

It’s likely that Ford’s latest Ranger and new Bronco will sell well here, but without styling reminiscent of the family, is it right to use these nameplates from the past?