Caught this small tidbit in this article. I hope they are right and good to hear Ford recognizes how important customization will be for the next Bronco.
Body-on-frame trucks refuse to die
A low-risk, high-reward proposition for automakers
They had been left for dead as recently as this decade. Hulking dinosaurs, reeking of inefficiency and poor ride quality, body-on-frame SUVs were supposed to have ceded their turf to crossovers and moved firmly into the industry's rearview mirror by now.
Consumers had other plans.
While the overall number of body-on-frame SUV nameplates has shrunk since their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, the remaining players are thriving. So healthy are sales and profit margins for their makers and sellers that new variants such as the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler pickup are set to join the fray.
It's a group of vehicles steeped in tradition and backstory. Like the Mustang and Corvette, they're among the one-name models in the industry: Wrangler, 4Runner, Bronco.
Among the factors driving today's healthy market for body-on-frame SUVs:
• Gasoline prices are down and expected to stay there while SUV fuel efficiency is up — somewhat. This combination gives consumers and automakers confidence to invest in a body-on-frame SUV.
• The economy has recovered from the recession, so consumers are again looking at discretionary purchases.
• With most nameplates switching to a unibody setup, there's less competition for the remaining body-on-frame models.
Crucially, because most of these vehicles share their components with either high-volume pickups domestically or other SUV models sold globally, a body-on-frame SUV is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for their makers.
"Because you're not starting with an all-new platform, you're starting with something and leveraging an investment you've already made. It just makes [an SUV] much easier and less risky," Craig Patterson, Ford's large-SUV marketing manager, told Automotive News.
The low-risk, high-reward rationale is driving Ford's decision to resurrect the Bronco nameplate in 2020. When it arrives, the new Bronco will ride on the same platform as the upcoming Ford Ranger midsize pickup — one currently sold in other markets globally.
Thus, if the Bronco debuts and Ford dealers hear crickets from consumers, the automaker won't face a huge loss. Conversely, when a pickup-based SUV sells well, it can mean big profits for the automaker.
Ford has other reasons for stepping up its SUV game.
Like all automakers, Ford sees consumers' preference for light trucks as a permanent evolution. By adding the Bronco to its lineup, Ford can diversify its portfolio to lure in — or keep — a consumer who might have otherwise picked a Wrangler or 4Runner when they wanted a capable off-road machine.
Ford also has a portfolio of fuel-efficient engines to offer in the new Bronco that it didn't the last time it sold the 4x4 back in 1996. Thus, body-on-frame construction doesn't necessarily mean terrible fuel economy. Patterson said the use of Ford's EcoBoost turbocharged engines in the Bronco was "inevitable" though he declined to discuss specifics.
Then there's the customization factor. Because these types of SUVs are often discretionary purchases that fall under the "want" category rather than "need," they're often bought by the kind of person who isn't content with a stock vehicle.
"To be considered legitimate in the off-road space, you have to be able to give the folks what they want — and what they want is to be able to customize it," Patterson said.
Ford plans a full line of accessories and modifications for the Bronco — many of which will land at dealerships pre-installed.
One has only to look to Fiat Chrysler's use of its Mopar products on Wranglers to see the potential.
Several years ago, Mopar head Pietro Gorlier made the shrewd decision to grab a larger slice of the massive aftermarket industry that existed in the Wrangler's orbit. The 4x4 has been ranked by the Specialty Equipment Market Association as the most customized SUV on the market every year since 2010, a market that spends billions of dollars annually customizing light trucks.
FCA gets in on the action early, modifying many of its Wranglers with Mopar parts at the Toledo Assembly Complex where they're assembled. Thus, they arrive at dealerships with aftermarket options that are covered by warranty, creating a tempting new toy for someone looking to avoid the hassle and expense of customizing their Wrangler part by part. On average, each Jeep Wrangler has $850 worth of customization, according to data released by FCA at the 2016 SEMA show.
Plus, higher transaction prices for these Wranglers means higher amounts financed. All of this adds up to a significant windfall for both FCA and its dealers. FCA declined comment for this story.
Wrangler aficionados will soon have a new toy to play with. Jeep's highly anticipated next-gen Wrangler is expected to be on sale by the end of this year. When it does, it will bring with it new iterations that show FCA's confidence in spending precious development dollars on one of its most iconic models.
A pickup iteration of the Wrangler will give FCA a midsize competitor to the highly popular Toyota Tacoma and GM Canyon/Colorado duo, while a diesel Wrangler in the U.S. market will help fuel economy figures.
History has favored Jeep when it expands the Wrangler's offerings. It wasn't until 2007 that Jeep sold a four-door model known as the Wrangler Unlimited; today this higher-content version makes up about 75 percent of U.S. Wrangler sales, which totaled 191,774 in 2016.
Consumer and dealer enthusiasm for these kinds of SUVs have gone a long way toward ensuring their survival. Toyota experienced this firsthand.
"[SUVs'] biggest impact is the emotional element; buyers desire these products, they're willing to pay for them," Andrew Coetzee, Toyota's group vice president for product planning and strategy told Automotive News. "It's not just a must-have, it's a want. It's an emotional draw, which means they're flexible in what they buy."
This makes a difference to dealers, who value this type of consumer and let Toyota know about it. This has saved the body-on-frame 4Runner at least once.
Several years ago with gasoline prices at their peak and stiffer regulations looming, the Japanese automaker was reconsidering whether it was prudent to continue selling the 4Runner in the U.S.
At the time, Toyota's RAV4 and Highlander unibody crossovers were vastly outselling the 4Runner — they still do — and the crossovers were doing so while being significantly more fuel efficient.
But after customers and dealers — a group with whom Toyota has a close, deferential relationship — spoke up in favor of the venerable 4Runner, the automaker's confidence in the 4Runner's business case was renewed and Toyota left it alone.
"That's always something that makes a difference for us," Coetzee said of both dealer and customer support. "It's tough to deny their voice, so we try hard to try and match what they're looking for."
The move was a prescient one. Despite the current model's age, 4Runner sales were up 15 percent in 2016 to 111,970; through May of this year they're also up 15 percent.
That doesn't mean that the 4Runner's identity is inextricably linked to being a body-on-frame vehicle, however. While there are no current plans to swap the 4Runner to unibody, it's not outside the realm of possibility.
"In theory, I think there's some openness on the part of buyers as to how their vehicles are built," Coetzee said. "I'm not sure you'll see us abandon [body on frame] any time soon. I'm just open to any scenario of how engineers can develop tough vehicles because I think our people are capable of change over time."
Land Rover is a perfect example of consumers' openness to change if the vehicles' off-road abilities remain stout. With the recent replacement of the LR4 with the Discovery, Land Rover now lacks a body-on-frame vehicle for the first time in its long and storied off-road history (the next-generation Defender could return as body-on-frame when it debuts within a year). Yet sales — and owners' perception of strength — remains a key selling point for Land Rover.
As with the Wrangler, the 4Runner has enjoyed a loyal following since it was introduced in the U.S. in 1984. Like many original SUVs of that era, the 4Runner was essentially Toyota's pickup with a different body on top — in this case, a removable fiberglass roof covering a second row of seats and a rollbar.
It was launched to compete with the second-generation Jeep Cherokee, also from the class of 1984, kicking off a golden era of body-on-frame SUVs in the U.S. that would include the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Isuzu Trooper, Chevy S-10 Blazer, Honda Passport and Mitsubishi Montero. (Ironically, another standout from that era, Jeep's second-generation Cherokee, was a beefed-up unibody design.)
These models were downsized from the large, unwieldy Suburbans and were more family-friendly than the two-door Chevy K5 Blazer or Ford Bronco of the era. The new SUVs promised the practicality of the station wagons baby boomers had grown up with, with an extra dose of ruggedness baked in.
Automakers loved the prospect of selling SUVs instead of station wagons to consumers since SUVs were cheap to produce and counted as a light truck, therefore facing less-strict fuel economy standards. Lower costs meant more profits for automakers and cheaper prices for consumers.
Everything was fine in SUV-land until Toyota took this evolution one step further in 1994 and introduced the first modern unibody crossover, the RAV4. It promised the best attributes of SUVs: practicality, commanding view of the road, all-wheel drive and the impression of safety, while adding better fuel efficiency and comfort.
Lexus came next in 1998 with the RX, kicking off the luxury crossover revolution.
Other automakers quickly followed suit, adapting their sedan platforms to accommodate a crossover body. In 1999, the 10 crossover models on the market made up 6.4 percent of all passenger vehicle sales in the U.S. In 2005, 38 crossovers accounted for 14.5 percent of the market; in 2016 there were 77 models eating up a third of all sales.
SUV sales went in the other direction: 1995 saw 31 models making up an 11.9 percent market share; in 2005 it was 55 models and 12.6 percent market share and in 2016, 29 models made up 7.5 percent share. The body-on-frame SUV was no longer the high-flying king of the road. But it has a bright future as a profitable prince.