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7.16.20   5:30 PM Markets

After 24 years, Ford brings back the Bronco

No — the beloved SUV didn’t disappear because of O.J.

The Ford Bronco, made famous (or notorious?) by O.J. Simpson’s 1994 police chase on the San Diego Freeway is making a comeback. This week, Ford Motor Company ($F) revealed the SUV would return to the market in two- and four-door versions after a 24-year hiatus. 

Ford initially planned to announce the Bronco’s revival in the spring, but delayed due to the Coronavirus — only to (temporarily) push the launch to July 9, which happens to be O.J.’s birthday. Coincidence? Ford says yes. Poor optics? We’ll let you decide. 

Though the much-anticipated announcement has made waves on Ford’s social platforms, it did not come without some bumps in the road. For starters, so many people wanted to get behind the wheel of a Bronco that the reservation site crashed the very first night the vehicle was made available.

The automaker's Twitter following has seen a steady rise, but month-over-month growth had been slowing this year. Until the Bronco announcement. Ford is now at 1.26 million followers.

What’s more, as people continue to hunker down at home and leave their cars in the driveway, the auto industry has become yet another victim of the Coronavirus. CNN Business reports that major automakers, including General Motors ($GM) and Toyota ($TM), will experience more than a 30% decrease in U.S. sales in the second quarter. According to Reuters, Ford expects to lose over $5 billion in the second quarter alone — more than double its $2 billion loss in Q1.

Although times are tough, Ford is hoping the revival of the Bronco will specifically give Jeep ($FCAU) a run — or drive — for its money. “Ford dealers have been saying forever: We need a Wrangler fighter,” Steve Olligest, a Las Vegas-based Ford dealer, told The Wall Street Journal. And it’s true: Jeep sold a record number of its ever-popular Wrangler in 2018 and has managed to hold onto a loyal customer base for years (ever hear of the “Jeep wave”?). The Wrangler, loved for its rugged appearance and off-roading capabilities, continues to be one of its most popular builds. If you aren’t yet convinced that the Wrangler and Bronco will go head to head, get this: Motortrend went as far as to face swap the two vehicles, leaving us with a “Jeep-ified Bronco” and a “Bronco-fied Jeep” (whichever you prefer) that just don’t feel quite right. 

Even with the Wrangler’s wild success and an oversaturated SUV market, the return of the Bronco is a glimmer of hope for old-school car enthusiasts and O.J. sympathizers alike — not to mention the Underground, a group of Ford managers and designers who, according to Bloomberg, “initiated a secret program to resurrect [the Bronco].” The fanatics worked tirelessly to bring the Bronco back on the radar since Ford stopped its production in 1997. 

While many assume the Bronco’s demise can be linked back to O.J., it was actually a variety of other factors that played into Ford’s decision to turn their back on the boxy SUV. "We had decided to move away from the two-door, two-row, large SUV," Mark Schirmer, a communications manager for Ford utility vehicles, told USA Today in 2014. Instead, Ford turned its focus to models like the Explorer and Expedition to accommodate the demand for four-door vehicles suitable for family life on the go. What’s more, Ford was due for redesign of the F150 pickup in 1997, effectively putting the Bronco on the back burner. 

Cue 2020: A global pandemic, unstable economy, and the return of an infamous vehicle many of us thought we had seen the last of. The Bronco relaunch is part of Ford Chief Executive Jim Hackett’s “turnaround plan,” according to WSJ; in reviving popular models, building a high growth culture, and not backing down in the face of the Wrangler, Ford might just be looking at a “Bring Back the Bronco” movement (or at the very least, a moment). 

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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