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Electric Ford Bronco promises to ensure a future for classic vehicles

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Images courtesy Zero Labs.

As Adam Roe sees it, the fates of the internal combustion engine and the older vehicles that rely on it for power are sealed. Collector cars will be parked for good, only driven “in rare displays of proud defiance.” And, in the process, we’ll lose something as a society. “Without them, our memories of who we were will fade,” he writes. “Our time will be forgotten or lost.” So to keep those memories alive, he decided to build the world’s first electrified Ford Bronco.

Launched last week, the Zero Labs Bronco follows the design of the first-generation U-150 Bronco wagon, the Jeep-like SUV that Ford described as “a new kind of sports car with four-wheel drive.” Roe, who started Los Angeles-based Zero Labs in 2015 “to provide car lovers both the spirit of the past and a clean energy future but in today’s standards,” noted that he chose the Bronco for a couple different reasons, but primarily because he already owned a 1970 Bronco that he found difficult to drive on a regular basis due to its unreliability.

“It drove me crazy,” he said. “Getting it to the point where it would last into the future was the inspiration for this project.”

It also helps that Broncos have become hot in recent years. Companies like Gateway Bronco and Icon have announced either all-new or substantially refreshed versions of the first-generation Bronco while Dynacorn has introduced a reproduction Bronco body.

“We definitely have respect for what they’re doing, and there’s a need for those guys, but there needs to be new solutions,” Roe said.

Electrification is one solution Roe and his team pursued. Under the hood, the Zero Labs Bronco will have a brushless permanent magnet AC motor from BorgWarner good for 275 kilowatts, or about 369 horsepower, backed by a five-speed manual transmission and an Atlas 2 two-speed transfer case. Combined with a 70-kilowatt-hour 400-volt lithium-ion battery pack, the motor will give the Bronco an estimated 190-mile range.

“We wanted to try to find a balance with the drivetrain,” Roe said. “If we go for too much torque or power, we have to use an unrealistic voltage. But if we reduce the voltage for good range, it’ll perform worse than the original.”

In addition, Roe and his team took an approach different from some recently announced electrified classics like Swindon’s E Classic Mini, which uses restored cars fitted with electric components, and the MGBs from RBW Classic Electric Cars, which use entirely new reproduction bodies. Instead, Zero Labs will start with original Bronco chassis (TIG welded for strength) and tubs, and fit them with carbon fiber bodies, modernized but still featuring the Ford block-letter logo on the tailgate. Steel doors and tailgates remain for safety reasons, Roe said.

“We initially tried the reproduction steel Bronco bodies, but abandoned that for a couple reasons,” Roe said. “One, we got fed up with the tolerances — we were spending six hours hanging a door — so we just decided to do it ourselves. And the other reason is weight — we were adding quite a bit of weight with the battery pack, so carbon fiber compensates for that fact.”

Roe said he and the design team wanted to show respect for the original design when creating their carbon fiber body, but they also wanted to finish it in a modern manner. “We asked ourselves what would Donald Frey have done if he had carbon fiber?” Roe said.

While the body does not feature a fold-down windshield or removable top like the steel-bodied original, Roe said he does want to include those features in future versions of the Zero Labs Bronco.

Underneath, the Bronco sports a smorgasbord of off-road-capable components, including Currie differentials, FOX adjustable coilover suspension, and Brembo six-piston disc brakes. And while the exterior features a handful of modern touches, Zero Labs went full-on modern for the interior with handmade walnut or bamboo panels — including the dash and the center console — as well as hand-stitched leather or vegan-friendly upholstery.

Roe said he doesn’t expect that customers will ever want to actually use the Bronco off road, “but it’ll crush a hill if they wanted to.”

While Roe has been keeping an eye on the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act and its intent to enable replica car builders to sell complete vehicles, he said he’s conflicted about taking advantage of the law once federal regulators get around to implementing it.

“It would make it easier for us not to have to work with a donor vehicle,” he said. “But at the same time, there’s a sadness of getting rid of the donor vehicle necessity. If you can make a new car from scratch, then it will accelerate the decline of the originals because nobody will want to deal with them when you can buy new; they’ll be left for dead.”

Still, he said he’s eager to hear from potential customers whether they’d be fine with a pure replica Bronco.

Zero Labs has yet to release any firm pricing. Given that Gateway Bronco has offers its all-new “continuation” first-generation Broncos for $150,000 and up, and Icon’s restomod Broncos go for $200,000-plus, Roe said the Zero Labs Bronco will likely cost as much as $300,000, depending on the amount of customization customers demand.

In addition, Roe considers the Bronco the company’s first production vehicle, noting that other “premium classic electric vehicles” are in the works at Zero Labs. He said he expects to release one additional model every year, topping out at five models.

Perhaps more importantly, Roe said, is that he sees Zero Labs products “as more of a cause than a vehicle. I hope that the conversation we start is about more than just Broncos. A lot of people are interested in not just the vehicle itself but in bringing classic EVs into the world and giving them a chance. We’ve gotten some pushback about ‘ruining original Broncos,’ but what our detractors forget is that our fight isn’t against other classic-car owners with different engines. We’re fighting against the marketers trying to sell us iPhones on wheels, and if we lose, then cars just become art pieces in museums. We want to see our cars last. We want them to have a future.”

The first run of 150 Broncos is set to be released sometime in late 2020. For more information about the Zero Labs Bronco, visit ZeroLabs.com.