Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) this week unveiled a new version of its iconic Ranger pickup at the Bangkok International Motor Show in Thailand.
The Ranger isn't all-new, but it's a significant refresh of the model that has been sold in many countries around the world since 2011.
The new truck, which will go on sale next year, includes an updated interior with many of Ford's latest high-tech features, three different diesel engines with fuel-saving stop-start technology, and improved off-road capabilities.
That looks like a pretty good package, doesn't it? There's just one catch: It'll be sold in over 180 countries, Ford says -- but the United States isn't one of them.
Ford has given up on selling the Ranger to Americans (at least for now)
Ford, of course, used to build and sell the midsize Ranger pickup in the U.S., but it was discontinued in 2011 and the Minnesota factory that built it was closed for good as part of Ford's restructuring effort.
Ford had an all-new Ranger ready to go at that time, but it decided not to sell it in the U.S. Slow sales of the outgoing model were one reason, but Ford offered another: The new-for-2012 Ranger was bigger than the old truck, and management argued it was too close in size to the F-150 to make it worthwhile.
Reading between the lines, perhaps what Ford was really saying is that it would rather have Ranger buyers step up to the more profitable F-150. There might also have been some complicated union politics involved: The UAW might have howled if Ford had closed the Ranger's factory because of slow sales -- and then introduced an all-new Ranger made somewhere else.
Full-size pickup trucks are a uniquely American (or at least North American) thing for the most part. They're too big and thirsty to sell well in most other places. But midsize pickups such as the Ranger post solid sales in places like Thailand and are popular commercial vehicles in Europe.
And lately they're enjoying something of a renaissance here in the U.S., one Ford is missing.
GM's new midsize trucks are finding a market
General Motors (NYSE:GM) waded back into the midsize pickup market last year with its all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. The Colorado and Canyon are closely related (mechanically speaking) to GM's full-size pickups, but they're targeted at a somewhat different market: consumers who want a truck for play, rather than for work.
GM's midsize trucks are bigger than the small pickups of old, but they're still smaller than the full-size Silverado and Sierra. It's a good compromise for some buyers: The cabins are still roomy, and the pickups' beds can still hold quite a bit of cargo, but the midsize trucks are a little easier to park at the supermarket or on city streets.
Their sales haven't set the world on fire yet -- GM sold about 9,000 of the midsize twins last month, compared to over 60,000 of its full-size pickups -- but they have found a niche alongside other midsize truck models such as Toyota's still-popular Tacoma.
Could Ford bring the Ranger back to the U.S. as an import?
Could Ford bring the Ranger back to the U.S.? It would take a little effort -- the design would probably have to be modified to meet U.S. regulations -- but it wouldn't be that hard if the Blue Oval thought there was a market for it, and it probably wouldn't be terribly expensive.
It would be more expensive to retool a U.S. factory to make the Ranger, though. Ford might be tempted to sell the Ranger here if it thought buyers would accept an imported truck. The current Ranger is made in Thailand, South Africa, and Argentina.
What do you think? Would you buy the new Ranger? If so, would you buy it if you knew it was made in, say, Thailand? Scroll down to leave a comment with your thoughts.
John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. 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.