The 2021 Ford Bronco is finally here, and it’s a momentous day for fans of Broncos, Fords, and off-roading. It has the right looks, the right hardware, and the right swagger to stick it to Jeep for the first time in decades. Buried in the avalanche of Bronco excitement, though, is the lynchpin: the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport.
Lynchpin? You bet. Yes, the big Bronco will carry the flag and soak up all the press. It will get the off-road and aftermarket communities irrepressibly excited. It’ll be in all the big commercials, conquering terrain only a Jeep could handle until now. The Bronco Sport? It’s a jacked-up Ford Escape with boxy styling. It’s also brilliant.
The Bronco Sport shares 80 percent of its parts with the Escape, Ford says. You might see that as proof it’s not a “real” Bronco, but it’s also proof of strategic planning on Ford’s part. That’s a ton of parts that don’t have to be designed from scratch. At most, they’ve been modified, optimized, or tuned to fit the new product. It’s a big ol’ pile of money saved right up front, and it means every Bronco Sport sold will be that much more profitable, both because it cost less to develop than a bespoke vehicle and because it brings down the cost of the shared parts. Saving money is always good for the corporate bottom line.
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It’s about more than saving money for Ford, though. It’s also about making it. The Wrangler is the undisputed flagship of the Jeep brand but not necessarily its top seller. In a good year, it counts for more than a quarter of all Jeep sales, but it’s not unusual for Jeep to sell just as many Cherokees and sometimes even more Grand Cherokees. As popular as the Wrangler is, roughly three-quarters of customers buy other Jeeps. They want the Jeep image and capability but don’t need an old-school rock crawler.
Although past research by Jeep suggests as much as 85 percent of Wrangler owners go off-road in some way or another, industry research suggest that number drops to as little as 15 percent for SUVs in general. What people define as “off-road” also varies significantly. For most, it’s a dirt or gravel road. Not many people actually want to rule Moab; they just don’t want to get stuck when they go on a little adventure.
The big Bronco will no doubt sell strongly at first to meet all the pent-up demand, but Jeep has decades of uninterrupted heritage, marketing, and brand loyalty behind it. The Bronco will have to be the hit of the decade to maintain sales the way the Wrangler does, because neither of them are inexpensive vehicles. The 2021 Bronco Sport, though, will costs thousands less. It’s not only more affordable for more customers, but it’s also all the SUV they need with all the badass Bronco image they crave. Don’t be surprised if the Bronco Sport regularly outsells the Bronco, and remember, every one will almost certainly carry a greater profit margin.
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And let’s not forget, the Bronco Sport is no shrinking violet. Each one sold will have all-wheel drive (something many Jeep models can’t say), and the really rugged models will come with a lockable, torque-vectoring rear axle; steel skidplates; and roughly the same ground clearance as a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. This isn’t a poser Bronco. It’s a legit little off-roader in its own right.
What Ford’s done here is capitalize in every way possible on the Bronco “family” it intends to build. The Bronco Sport has the right look and the right hardware to attract customers who don’t want a big Bronco or can’t afford one, and it accomplishes this without alienating serious off-roaders and Bronco fans. Ford has done it with a massive heap of existing parts that’ll keep costs down and margins high. The big Bronco will get all the attention, but the Bronco Sport will bring home the bacon, the same way a GT500 gets buyers into EcoBoost Mustangs.
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