Ford's Revived Bronco Isn't a Car — It's a Lifestyle
To rival the Jeep Wrangler, Ford is looking far beyond the SUV
The Bronco is officially back, people.
After 24 long years, Ford unveiled the brand-new, reinvented, “Built Wild” Bronco on Monday night. In fact, the American automaker launched an entire family of Bronco vehicles — a two-door, a first-ever four-door and a Sport model — leaving room for even more members in the future.
After what seemed like an endless build-up, which included coronavirus-related delays and even O.J. Simpson-related delays, the internet is practically bursting at the seams with Bronco content. If you read any of the flood of coverage today, you’ll find most people are concerned with three main issues:
- Vintage Bronco fans want to know if the new SUVs respect the heritage. (Yes, both because the nameplate originally launched in 1965 as a family of vehicles and because the Ford team did a better job of capturing the boxy Bronco essence in the two- and four-door models than the Defender team did.)
- Off-road enthusiasts want to know if this is a real Jeep Wrangler competitor. (Yes, the off-road-ready two-door model starts at $28,500 MSRP and the Sport starts at $26,660, while the 2020 Wrangler starts at $28,295.)
- And doorless diehards want to know if they can ride al fresco. (Yes, the frameless door design is an honest-to-god game changer, as they can be stored onboard while leaving your side mirrors on the vehicle.)
All of these concerns, while important, are myopic. The story of the new Bronco can’t be told in the scope of the vehicles alone. With these new SUVs, Ford is trying to sell Americans something much bigger than a new car — they’re trying to sell them a new way of life.
Before you accuse me of writing marketing copy for Ford, I’d like to clear the air: I can’t in good conscience recommend you put down even the paltry $100 the automaker is asking to reserve one of these behemoths because I haven’t driven one myself or even seen it in person (when Ford finally lets us drive one, we’ll be back with a full report).
Treating this launch from Ford with more gravity than the traditional vehicle reveal doesn’t have anything to do with my personal feelings for the new line and everything to do with the adjacent launches happening alongside the SUVs, launches you may not hear about but are just as important, especially when it comes to the war Ford is waging against Jeep and its Wrangler.
Alongside the vehicles, Ford is publicly unveiling a suite of adjacent ventures: Bronco Nation, which is essentially a Ford-certified fan website that went live in May but is now offering memberships; Off-Roadeo, an “outdoor adventure playground” in four TBA locations across the U.S. that will allow new Bronco owners to learn about the vehicle capabilities (if they’re new to off-roading) or test their chops (if they’re seasoned crawlers); a substantial accessory market, which includes more than 200 factory add-ons for the two- and four-door and more than 100 for the Sport at the time of launch; and even a dedicated Amazon store, which has all the branded gear you could ever want, from window flags to coffee mugs. And if you don’t like that gear, Bronco Nation has a whole different shop, naturally.
Taken in aggregate, this massive, multifaceted strategy — which includes the last-minute audible they had to call because of COVID-19 — is nothing short of a Herculean effort by the Ford team. But when you look closer, it becomes even more intriguing, as each piece seems to be a highly specialized weapon in a methodical arsenal Ford has assembled to chip away at Jeep and any other off-road competitors. This is not a full-blown assault, it’s guerilla warfare.
Take Bronco Nation. While Ford says the website is “led by a team of enthusiasts,” in the most basic sense the automaker is kickstarting its own community so it doesn’t have to wait until 2021 for owners to create their own. (Obviously Jeep has plenty of these blogs and sites with loyal followings.) The factory accessories are available at launch for a similar reason: the automaker wants to have every possible customized configuration available immediately so buyers don’t have to compromise when comparing the Bronco to the Wrangler. Meanwhile, Off-Roadeo is an answer to events like the Easter Jeep Safari and the general off-road pedigree of Jeep, which has footholds in high-profile spots like Moab (where one of our writers learned to rock crawl with Jeep a few years ago). As for the gear, well, everyone loves gear.
You get the $30K SUV, throw in a retro T-shirt, sign up for the fan membership and then book your Off-Roadeo trip for your first big outing after coronavirus (hopefully) subsides in the new year, and soon enough you’ve got the redesigned Bronco logo on your calf and other Bronco owners are waving at you as you pass on the road. In no time at all, you’ve got a new identity to put in every social-media bio: Bronco owner.
Looking at it from that point of view, the SUVs themselves come into focus. As Jeep has successfully diversified its brand out among the nuclear family — dad might have that new Gladiator pickup with a crew cab, mom might have a sensible Grand Cherokee with the pre-heating and -cooling, and the kids yearn for a doorless Wrangler — Ford is making the same moves with the Bronco, but with an even keener interest in picking up the younger demographic that possibly wasn’t even born when O.J. turned the Bronco into the punchline of a thousand very bad jokes. After all, the new two- and four-door Broncos look like the Instagrammable lovechild of a Wrangler and Toyota FJ Cruiser, even more so when you consider one of the available paint colors is called “Area 51” and the terrain settings are called “G.O.A.T. Modes.”
If you’re a Bronco buff, you’ll know that “G.O.A.T.” doesn’t stand for “greatest of all time,” but “goes over any terrain,” a nickname given to the first-generation model back in the ‘60s. We’d bet that millennial and Gen Z owners will overlook that tidbit of history, but that too seems to be part of Ford’s masterplan.
With the new Bronco, Ford is eschewing its industrialist namesake and taking on the role of Walt Disney or Willy Wonka, welcoming Americans into an outdoor adventure playground of its own making, one that appeals to all generations, income levels and bucket lists. Now, they’re just waiting to see if anyone will walk through the gate.