Bronco, Hummer Usher in New Era of Promotional Off-Road Racers

Automakers are using races like King of the Hammers and Extreme E to sell SUVs

Ford Bronco at King of the Hammers
You cannot buy a Ford Bronco like this for daily driving. Does it make you want a Bronco anyway?

What would convince you to buy a brand new Ford Bronco, once they’re actually available for purchase? The sub $30K starting price, 200-plus accessories or maybe the youthful spirit, embodied in paint colors like “Area 51” and terrain settings they’ve titled “G.O.A.T. modes”? Those are all relatively practical reasons to buy a car, but Ford is betting on something else: off-road reputation.

On Monday, Ford announced that it has built three off-road race trucks inspired by the new production Bronco to compete in this year’s King of the Hammers, a grueling desert racing and rock crawling event in Johnson Valley, California. You can certainly watch these Bronco 4400 series trucks compete this week, but that’s not the point of these builds. The point is to convince you, the potential Bronco buyer, that the ones coming to Ford lots are the most capable off-road vehicles around. 

It’s a new trend among automotive manufacturers; as SUVs and trucks continue to provide huge profits in the U.S., the companies selling them are trying everything they can to boost their off-road cred, even if the most action normal drivers will see is the occasional dirt road. And races with some cachet — like King of the Hammers or the Baja 1000, where a Bronco racing prototype was tested before the consumer vehicle’s unveiling — are becoming the place to earn that cred, even if the results are less than ideal.

It’s not just Ford doing this, either. Last week, GMC announced that it would sponsor a team at Extreme E, the upcoming all-electric SUV off-road race. Part of that sponsorship includes outfitting one of the racers to look like the Hummer EV —  “a unique grille, graphics and bodywork” inspired by the electric behemoth — even though the actual engineering underneath that costume apparently has no connection to the consumer vehicle. 

GMC Hummer EV at Extreme E
The Chip Ganassi Racing electric SUV done up to look like the Hummer EV.

Vaughn Gittin Jr., one of the drivers tasked with racing Ford’s new Bronco 4400, said in a press release that the King of the Hammers will help “push the Bronco brand deeper into the competitive off-road scene.” 

Therein lies the purpose. While a few wins for Bronco and Hummer in these races wouldn’t hurt, the main goal here is to associate the Bronco or Hummer EV in your driveway with rugged racing vets speeding through dangerous terrain in far flung corners of the world. 

Our advice? You’ll be better off buying a car based on how and where you actually drive, which means SUVs and trucks like these are overkill for many. But overkill, it seems, is now par for the course.

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