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Why Ford's New 2019 Ranger Pickup Has Big Potential

By John Rosevear – Jan 14, 2018 at 7:03AM

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The market for midsize trucks could be bigger than we realize.

Ford Motor Company (F 1.45%) has taken the wraps off of its 2019 Ranger pickup for the North American market. 

Ford hasn't offered a Ranger in the U.S. since 2011. But it has kept the model alive in many overseas markets, where the current version has developed a loyal following for its considerable off-road ability. 

It's that Ranger that served as the basis for the new one coming to U.S. showrooms late this year. Here's what we know about it -- and what we still don't know.

A bronze-colored 2019 Ford Ranger, a midsize pickup truck, on a mountain road.

Here it is: The 2019 Ford Ranger. Ford said that the new Ranger will begin arriving in U.S. showrooms by the end of the year. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

All the details, and the one question Ford hasn't yet answered

Here are the high points that truck enthusiasts have been waiting to read:

  • Drivetrain: At least initially, there will only be one engine available in the Ranger, a 2.3 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Ford didn't release power figures for the Ranger's version of the 2.3 liter engine. The same engine is used in the Lincoln MKC; in that application, it's rated at 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. (A higher-performance Ranger Raptor is in development, but Ford hasn't yet shared details.)
  • Design: The global Ranger was given a big overhaul for North America, but it isn't an all-new design. (That's not a bad thing: It's based on the current global Ranger, which gets good reviews in places like Australia.) 
  • Configurations: All of the Rangers sold here will have extended cabs; Ford will offer both SuperCab (small rear-hinged doors) and SuperCrew cab (full back doors) configurations.
  • Trim levels: At launch, the new Ranger will be available in XL, XLT, and Lariat trims, with optional Chrome and Sport appearance packages, and an available FX4 Off-Road package. The Lariat versions are pretty plush, with leather seats and nice trim. But unlike the F-150, Ford isn't offering a super-luxury version of the Ranger -- at least, not yet. 
  • Construction: Unlike its F-150 sibling, the Ranger doesn't have aluminum body panels. It's built with conventional steel panels on what Ford describes as a "rugged high-strength steel frame." Ford notes that the Ranger was "torture-tested" alongside F-150s, and should provide similar durability.
  • Technology: The new Ranger will have the usual bag of Ford tech goodies, including optional SYNC 3 with an 8-inch touchscreen. Rangers with the FX4 Off-Road package get Ford's Terrain Management System and a new system called Trail Control, sort of an off-road cruise control. 
  • Production: The new North American Ranger will go into production at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant near Detroit in the fourth quarter of 2018. 

Here's what we don't yet know:

  • Price. Ford will announce the Ranger's pricing later this year, before its launch. The Ranger's closest rival, General Motors' (GM 0.59%) midsize Chevrolet Colorado pickup, starts at a little over $20,000 and can be optioned up to around $40,000. Expect the Ranger's pricing to be in that neighborhood. 
A view of the front seat and dash of the 2019 Ford Ranger Lariat. The seats have leather upholstery and the dash features a prominent touchscreen.

Lariat versions of the new Ranger get leather seats and a slew of technology features. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

So will the new Ranger sell?

Ford talked up the growth in the U.S. market for midsize pickups since 2014 as part of its case for the Ranger. Here's what that looked like. 

Bar chart showing the growth of the midsize truck market. Sales grew significantly from 2014 to 2015, and from 2015 to 2016, but were up only slightly in 2017.

Data sources: The automakers' U.S. sales reports, Automotive News. Chart shows combined annual U.S. sales of the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma. 

Note that a lot of that increase in sales since 2014 was due to the entry of the GM twins, the Colorado and GMC Canyon, which were launched as 2015 models. Comparing 2016 with 2017 suggests that the market might be saturated, but there's a complicating factor: Production at the Missouri factory that makes the Colorado and Canyon has been maxed out since the trucks' launch. 

Can the U.S. market absorb, say, another 130,000 or so Rangers every year? I bet it can -- or at least I bet Ford can sell that many (and maybe more) as long as the U.S. economy remains strong, because there's a big factor working in the Ranger's favor: Brand power. 

Both "Ford" and "Ranger" are powerful names with truck buyers. Ford's F-Series full-size pickups have been America's best-sellers for decades. Ford's trucks have millions of loyal fans, including some that have been waiting for an all-new Ranger for years. 

Others will be drawn to the Ranger for the same reasons that models like the Colorado and Tacoma do well: They're trucks for buyers who like the image of a truck, particularly one with some off-road ability -- but who don't necessarily want something as big as an F-150. That's a sizable market, and it's one that Ford is clearly aiming at with the Ranger, particularly the FX4 Off-Road versions. 

The 2019 Ford Ranger pickup viewed from a rear three-quarter angle, on a desert landscape.

Another view of the 2019 Ford Ranger. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

The upshot: No surprise -- Ford did the Ranger right

It's always a little hard to predict how a new vehicle will do in the market. Virtues and flaws that aren't apparent at the vehicle's carefully orchestrated debut can appear as the new model is reviewed by experts and by its initial customers, and those can affect its sales performance in difficult-to-foresee ways. 

On top of that, new competitors can show up, and we know that at least one new Ranger competitor is coming: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) is gearing up to launch its own new midsize pickup, one based on the just-launched all-new version of its iconic Jeep Wrangler SUV. 

But a new Ford pickup is a safer bet than most new products. Ford has a deep understanding of what pickup buyers most want, and tremendous clout with truck buyers that has been rightfully earned over decades. On first viewing, the new Ranger appears to hit all of the right marks. I think it'll sell briskly, delivering a nice profit boost to Ford in North America -- and I think it'll do well without cannibalizing sales of the (possibly more profitable) F-150 to any meaningful degree.

Long story short: At least to this Fool, it looks like Ford did what it needed to with the new Ranger. Ford truck fans, and Ford investors, have good reasons to be optimistic about its chances. 

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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