No Fixed Abode: No Home on the Ranger
Here’s that Ranger day
They told me about
And I laughed at the thought
That it might turn out
Apologies to the Chairman Of The Board on that one, but I couldn’t help myself. You see, I never truly believed that the Ranger would return to this country. I absolutely did not believe that it would come back as an American-made product in a newly configured factory, during what amounts to the endgame senescence of its platform. This is the kind of against-all-odds urgency that one typically associates with desperately needed products like the K-car or the first-generation Ranger — vehicles that had to be rushed into showrooms because the dealerships were screaming bloody murder and the Japanese had moved from mere flensing to actual bone-eating.
This Ranger, on the other hand, will arrive in the market to find itself lined up against a few equally superannuated sluggards from Nissan and Toyota, the indifferently-received Colorado/Canyon twins, and… is there anybody else? The unibody Ridgeline? Is it even possible to make money in this segment? Why bother doing it, particularly when the Rangers could have been rushed over from Thailand in a matter of months in the event of another oil and/or confidence crisis?
Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do and buy. Truth be told, I’m kind of excited about the Ranger, because I saw a bunch of pumped-up ones in Thailand and I was more than mildly impressed. If you could get it with a 3.7-liter V6 in addition to the 2.3L EcoBoost I don’t know if the Chevy dealers would even bother to order any Colorados for stock in 2019. There’s only one little problem: it’s far from cheap.
Which brings us to an unpleasant topic: How much is a compact pickup worth?
You can start by forgetting the new Ranger’s sticker price, because that’s ridiculous and it won’t be relevant after the traditional new-Ford honeymoon period, in which all the loyal customers line up to take an ordered unit or an early dealer arrival at “full pop.” I was in dealers for the honeymoon of the ’97 F-150 and let me tell you that a lot of boats were bought and a lot of second mortgages were mortally wounded from honeymoon money.
The same was true with the first Expeditions, only more so. But there was even a bit of it in the case of the ’96 Taurus and the facelifted Nineties Thunderbirds. Right now, your local Ford dealer has a list of between 10 and 30 people who are going to take a Ranger on terms that are very advantageous for said dealer. After that it’s gonna be back to life and back to reality.
In the world of reality, pickup trucks are sold at a discount. Which means the Ranger will need cash on its handsome hood in a hurry. But there’s a second, more unpleasant reality on top of that: full-sized trucks offer the biggest discounts to be found anywhere outside an Acura dealership with NSX and RLX inventory. This is particularly true for half-tons with volume-production equipment; think F-150 XLT and Silverado LT. There are a few dealers in my immediate area offering crew cab 5.3-liter LT Silvy 4x4s for $34,999. An XLT Ranger 4×4 crewcab costs… wait for it… thirty-six grand. This isn’t like the false equivalency that powers some of the “enthusiast” websites out there: For The Price Of a New Camry You Could Get A Salvage-Title Testarossa With A Missing Interior! This is a very simple decision offered to new-truck buyers: You can have your mid-trim crew-cab 4×4 delivered to you as a compact truck with a four-cylinder engine, or as a full-sized with a V8. Same price. Which do you want?
Now here’s a dirty little secret: The same was true back in the Eighties. It was just about possible to get a base F-150 for the price of a Toyota It’s-Just-Called-Truck. If your local Toyota dealer was big on the additional dealer markup, it might even have been cheaper to buy the Ford. God knows the Rangers and S-10s were real-world priced well below their foreign-branded competition, but I still met a lot of buyers who liked the idea of a trimmed-up American-brand compact truck more than they liked the idea of a base-ish full-sizer.
Compact trucks were considered “cool” at the time. They were like, uh… well, there’s no modern equivalent because there is no longer such a thing as a “cool” affordable vehicle. Everybody buys a pod on wheels except for the otaku types who make up the micro-market for the Toyota 86 and whatnot. The average American’s enthusiasm for cars and trucks isn’t a fraction of what it used to be. It’s kind of like the guitar business: there’s no upper limit to what the wealthy players will spend but once you get below them nobody really cares about playing their own music anymore. Easier to listen to some anonymous curator’s Spotify playlist on your AirPods.
It would be nice if the Ranger managed to make compact trucks cool again. We need something like a new Back To The Future movie where today’s Marty McFly dreams of a Ranger Raptor the way the original McFly dreamed of that bad-ass lifted Toyota. If that happens, then you can forget all this business about relative pricing and market exhaustion, because the Ranger will do just fine, thank you.
If not… well, the market is going to have to figure out the utility of compact pickups and price accordingly. This will be difficult because a compact truck can do everything that most people really do with their trucks, yet it struggles to do the things that people think they will do with their trucks. We buy based on perceived capability and perceived need nowadays. It takes a truly clear head to operate in any other fashion.
Which is something I’ve been trying to do lately. As some TTAC readers know, I’ve been considering doubling the number of pickup trucks in my driveway. The second truck, or AuxTruck if you will, would only have to do a subset of what MainTruck does. I would use it for cycling-related stuff and for short, easy pulls of my aluminum car-hauler to local tracks like Mid-Ohio and Nelson Ledges. In an AuxTruck situation, compactness is an advantage because it makes for easier parking both at home and elsewhere. Better fuel mileage is welcome, although it’s tough to beat the real-world economy of my 6.2-liter Silverado with anything short of, say, a real car. It would also be nice to spend less money on the thing.
So I specced out a 2019 Ranger XLT 4×4 Crew Cab. For options, I did the trailer tow package and the heated-seat package. The total price was $38,505. For a relatively basic truck with a four-cylinder engine. An F-150 built the same way, with the same options, with the EcoBoost 2.7L, is $41,330. In other words, Ford is going to offer me a 6 percent discount to take a 2010-era truck design with a four-banger. And that’s before we look at a single incentive on either side. What do you suppose the F-150’s resale advantage will be in three, five, or ten years? Do you think it will be at least 6 percent? If you don’t think that, then can I ask you how long it’s been since you last had a concussion?
The compact truck discount has got to be more than 6 percent. Period. Twenty years ago, the MSRPs of Rangers and F-150s were separated by between 32 and 40 percent. If you put a 35 percent discount on that 2018 F-150, you get a $27,000 Ranger Crew Cab 4×4 XLT. Which is about 10 percent below a well-equipped Accord sedan of the day. Today’s well-equipped Accord sedans are… $30k, give or take.
That’s a long and convoluted way to tell you something that you inherently understood the first time you saw 2019 Ranger pricing:
Warning: video is for grownups.
The price is just too high, which means Ford might have some rough sailing ahead. It also suggests that, contrary to autowriter conventional wisdom, it’s the compact trucks which are priced above what the market will bear, while their full-sized cousins are actually just about right after the usual discounts are applied. And that’s before you factor in the resale issue. So while the Ranger might be sized and marketed like a compact truck, at these prices it’s actually a luxury good. In other words, expect to see Rangers being ordered, purchased, and used for entirely different purposes than the ones served by its humble namesake. And if you’re buying a Ranger, you might want to think about why you’re doing so.
One thing is for certain: At the very least, you’ll need to empty out your rainy day fund.
[Image: Ford Motor Company]
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