There are many things you can say about Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), both good and bad. However, you certainly can't argue that Ford hasn't been able to produce many vehicles that attract a very intense and loyal following. Ford's F-Series has been the best-selling full-size truck for 37 years for a reason, and has outsold the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra combined over the last half-decade.
Ford also owns the Mustang, which commands arguably the most intense and loyal fan base in America. Among many other Ford vehicles, the Ranger also has an enthusiastic following who are eagerly hoping for a new model in America.
Now that General Motors is bringing back its discontinued Colorado and Canyon, is there hope for a new Ranger to hit the streets in America?
Is there a market?
It's easy to argue that there isn't a market for the Ranger, and the facts would appear to back that argument.
As you can see, the market for the major automakers' compact/midsize pickups seriously declined, and never rebounded. However, there are two sides to this.
One could say that the market for a smaller truck was eliminated because consumers wanted a truck that had respectable towing and hauling capabilities, decent gas mileage, and a reasonable base price -- all factors offered by full-size trucks.
On the other hand, one could argue that over the years, as the smaller trucks slowly grew in size and price, they were so close to the full-size pickups that it was pointless for consumers not to step up to the full-size truck. However, that doesn't mean that a market for a true compact truck doesn't exist; there just isn't an available product -- most of the Ranger's competitors moved up in size to the full-size segment.
Let's let those two opinions of the potential market simmer, and take a look at some other hurdles the Ranger would face if it were to make a comeback.
Where and how?
These are vehicles that need to be produced in factories with available production capacity and appropriate assembly lines. The Ranger was produced at Ford's Twin Cities Assembly Plant in Minnesota until it was discontinued in 2011, and it was also produced at Ford's Edison, New Jersey, plant.
So, couldn't Ford just begin producing the Ranger at the drop of a hat at one of those two facilities?
Unfortunately, that would be an impossible task, as both of those facilities have been completely demolished. The only factory still open that ever produced the Ranger is in Louisville, Kentucky, which currently produces the Ford Escape and Lincoln MKC. Without knowing the plant's operating capacity, it's unclear to me how plausible this option is, though we can't rule out the possibility entirely.
With only a glimmer of hope remaining to have the Ranger produced here in the near-term, what other options are there to bring the truck back? What if Ford were to import Rangers from one of its six global plants producing the truck for the rest of the world, you ask? Well, that won't work, either.
There's a little thing preventing such a scenario from happening: the Chicken Tax. In 1963, in response to certain European tariffs on the importation of U.S. chicken, there was a tariff implemented that directly affected countries such as Germany (Volkswagen) and Japan (Toyota, Honda) seeking to bring their competing light trucks into the U.S. market. The 25% tariff slapped on those imports effectively squashed light trucks from being imported, and would still effectively prevent the Ranger from returning as an import, as well.
Nail in the coffin
What is perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the Ranger's comeback tour is that Ford has invested much time and resources into its next-generation F-150, in which it has eliminated as much as 700 pounds by replacing steel with aluminum in the body panels. Ford has also developed an extensive, and highly popular, Eco-Boost engine lineup for those truck drivers who wish to use the vehicle for everyday use.
That strategy appears to confirm, in my opinion, that if Ford does see a market potential for smaller pickups, it believes it can steal those consumers with a slimmed-down next-generation F-150 that gets better gas mileage.
So, ultimately, is there a chance the Ranger will make a comeback in the United States? Of course, it's possible, especially if General Motors' 2015 Colorado and Canyon send sales of the compact/midsize truck segment to heights not seen in decades. But don't count on it anytime soon.
Right now the Ranger that serves the rest of the world is too big, and too similar to full-size trucks, to be the potential compact/midsize truck for the automaker here in the U.S. -- it works globally because the F-150 doesn't sell globally.
If Ford truly wanted to take another stab at the compact or midsize market, it could. But right now, that doesn't appear to make much sense.
Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.