The Truth About Ford's Other Workhorses

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
the truth about ford s other workhorses

Ford makes great full size trucks, but repeat after me: not everyone cares about the F-150. There’s more to being a Ford truck than what Toby Keith and Mike Rowe said. Listen up peeps: this is a story of having a growth and retention strategy for one product line, and an exit strategy for another.

First, the Econoline: slated for replacement by the thoroughly modern Ford Transit vans, there’s good news for everyone. Well, except for every small-time rock band that would sacrifice a groupie for said Econoline with a 7.3L Powerstroke to cheaply haul their crew and a box trailer full of their shit. Full size vans need to take a page from Europe, without the nightmare diagnostic scenarios presented by the Mercedes Sprinter. And here it is.

Well not exactly. But I can’t resist posting a picture of the Transit Supervan 2, which proves that any love we feel for the Econoline is absolutely trumped by the love the world feels for the Transit.

One of my mates in the UK owns a small auto repair/MOT business, and he loathes working on the Sprinters, for all the reasons seen on a US-Sprinter forum. Ask him about the Ford Transit, ANY Transit, and his face lightens up. The European workhorse everyone knows and loves deserves to be here, provided Ford makes all the Transit specific parts available, affordable and easy to service by anyone familiar with traditional US-spec vans. That is no small feat, but totally doable. I predict Ford will retain their title in the world of Van Awesomeness, and I look forward to meeting the replacement for TTAC’s first and only custom van review!

Then there’s the Ford Ranger debacle. People say it hasn’t changed much since the early 1990s, which is a load of bull. That said, most people don’t care about what engineers do under the sheet metal. So I get it.

The Ranger is slated for extinction next week. The truck that gave Ford the commanding presence in the compact workhorse market, the vehicle that still sells disgustingly well by anyone’s metric, is being replaced by…nothing. And unlike Panther Love, where “criminal” platform neglect (get it?) forced retail buyers into the arms of other manufacturers for the past 15-20 years, the Ranger is still good enough for a little truck.

And while my bias to the Ranger is clear, Ford’s rationale for abandoning the market is not. But let’s try anyway, shall we?

I once had a quote showing Ford’s decision to push would-be Ranger buyers into the (upcoming) Focus and Fiesta. [s]Too bad I lost it.[/s] Luckily the B&B found it for me. And now the F-150 is thrown into the mix. Ford thinks the base model F-150 will hoover up Ranger buyers that wouldn’t touch a Fiesta. It’s a similar rationale used when replacing the original Taurus with the Fusion and the Five Hundred. Which was a rather colossal blunder, but that’s not the point. The Ranger isn’t the Taurus. And to quote Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst (via WardsAuto):

“Nobody has infinite resources, and we have to figure out how we can best position those resources to meet the needs of customers today and in the future. (The Ranger) has been pretty popular, but we think more of a baseline F-150 can also meet a good portion of those needs.”

And, in a fitting eulogy for the Ford Ranger, Jeremy Cato retorted, “Corporate-speak, if ever I’ve heard it.” Read the whole article, it’s worth it.

Because he is right. The Ranger does it all with a tiny footprint. And while mere inches separate the Ranger from the Toyota Tacoma, the Taco feels much bigger, sucks down more gas, has poorer visibility and costs significantly more when you spec them out. Along with freebies like fog lights, Class III receiver hitch, and four wheel disc brakes, my cheap-as-chips Ranger XLT surprised me with something else: a recent trip to San Antonio (tonneau cover equipped, A/C running, driving assertively) netted a robust 33MPG. Try that in an F-150, or any other truck for that matter. You still think the Ranger hasn’t changed in 15 years, son?

Once more: thirty three MPG. Tons of visibility and more chassis/suspension/powertrain refinement than you’d expect from an “unchanged since the 1990s” pickup. But the sheet metal lied to us, and too bad what you see below wasn’t our ”forgive me” present.

But to be fair to Ford, I suspect importing/assembling the “other” Ranger in North America shall cost more than abandoning the people who won’t move to a Fiesta or F150. It’s always cheaper to do nothing and narrow your scope. That’s a totally fair business practice.

Profitability via Mutilation much?

So there you have it: two long standing models, two names with a famous-ish history and tens of thousands of fiercely loyal buyers…with two unique outcomes.

Oddly enough, my 33MPG trip to the Home of the Alamo is the silver lining: the nearby Toyota truck factory is standing by. Just a guess, but expect them to ramp up Tacoma production another 50,000+ units annually to take up the slack left behind by Ford. And expect them to laugh all the way to the bank.

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4 of 79 comments
  • SuperACG SuperACG on Dec 15, 2011

    Sajeev, I always look forward to reading your entries; especially when they mention Ford products. I will miss the Ranger and Econoline (already missing the Panther). I love your Ranger, Sajeev, and have entertained swapping the 2.3T from a fox t-bird, or slapping a turbo on the current Duratec just for kicks and giggles. The E-series? I lust after the Sportsmobiles with the raised roof. More capability and room than the VW Westys. Definitely curious as to how the Transit will fit into the American way of doing for the Ranger Replacement, I definitely DO NOT need the big size of the F-Series. Safety? I don't feel any more safe in the F-Series compared to the Rangers. Too much fluff I don't need.

  • LeadHead LeadHead on Dec 15, 2011

    I love the Ranger (I have one), but it really has not changed much since the early 1990s. They've added 2 new engines since 1990. The 2.3 Duratec, and the updated SOHC 4.0. Chassis wise? The last major change was the switch from TTB to true-IFS in '98. The rest of the Chassis appears to be pretty much the same as my '87 Ranger. Just look at the interior. They have been using almost the exact same dash since 1995. The major interior differences between a 1995 Ranger and a 2011 Ranger? Steering wheel and instrument cluster. It would not have taken much to update the Ranger.

    • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Dec 16, 2011

      The rear suspension was significantly redone circa 2003. Even the beds don't interchange. Active handling nannies became standard and all the interior wiring got a makeover around this time too. By 2011 they all had 8.8 axles and 4-whl discs. Those are two big ones that I know of the top of my head, but's all under that outdated skin.

  • YellowDuck Thank goodness neither one had their feet up on the dash....
  • Zerofoo I learned a long time ago to never buy a heavily modified vehicle. Far too many people lack the necessary mechanical engineering skills to know when they've screwed something up.
  • Zerofoo I was part of this industry during my college years. We built many, many cars for "street pharmacists" that sounded like this.Excessive car audio systems are kind of like 800 HP engines. Completely unnecessary, but a hell of a lot of fun.
  • DedBull In it to win it!
  • Wolfwagen IIRC I remember reading somewhere that the Porsche Cayenne was supposed to have a small gasoline-powered block heater. There was a loop in the cooling system that ran to the heater and when the temperature got to a certain point (0°C)the vehicle's control unit would activate the heater. I dont know if this was a concept or if it ever made it into production.