Is Ford Sowing Even More Discontent with the Way The Company Has Handled Bronco Delays?
There’s no question that the pandemic of the last year and a half (plus) has changed things in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We’ve had to substantially alter our routines, scrapping some pastimes altogether, and instead focus on activities that put a greater emphasis on isolation.
For the entire industrial sector, including the automotive industry, the effects have been arguably even more severe, with supply chains continuing to be interrupted even now. Ford’s Bronco production serves as a sort of case study of the effects of the pandemic, as all those related complications that have cropped up in its wake have created some unfortunate drama that no company, no matter how diligent, could have completely planned for.
But has Ford’s “on again, off again” announcements pertaining to the Bronco, its sporadic attempts to quell its buyers’ impatience and its seeming lack of control over its dealership network added fuel to the fires of their discontent? Let’s take a closer look.
Initially, A Great Start for the Bronco
When Ford made the announcement in 2017 that its iconic SUV was making a return, the automotive press, as well as the buying public, responded as enthusiastically as anyone could have hoped. Of course, no manufacturer releases a new model — even one bearing a household name — without compiling plenty of evidence it will prove to be a hit and, while some research is bound to fail now and again, all signs pointed to the fact that Ford had found a fertile niche to be mined. The rugged SUV segment had changed markedly since the Bronco made its 1996 departure, with Jeep’s Wrangler holding court as the single financially accessible off-roader left on the market, so Ford’s target was clear.
Nonetheless, even Ford couldn’t have predicted the level of enthusiasm that would result from its announcement, and because of the high-profile nature of the manufacturer’s pursuit, the proverbial eyes of the automotive industry have been on Ford’s Bronco reintroduction ever since. This has served to make every twist and turn of the Bronco’s production saga seem more dramatic than they would otherwise be.
There’s little doubt that Ford has a bona fide winner on its hands — the outsize mountain of orders for the Bronco has set Ford back on its heels as it struggles to catch up, but it has also paved the way for the manufacturer to be so confident in the model’s continued success that it has already announced the anticipation of some refinements to the Bronco a number of model years in the future.
Ford, as a company, is doing great overall. Its strategy to focus only on trucks, SUVs and its iconic Mustang is proving to be very solid and, after a relatively late entry into the electric vehicle marketplace, Ford seems to be making up ground rapidly. As far as weathering some of the supply chain difficulties that Covid has wrought, by some indications the company has handled things better than a number of its competitors, especially as far as the semiconductor chip shortage is concerned.
As chaotic as things have been for the automotive sector these past months, you still have to wonder if Ford couldn’t have done a better job with its messaging up to now in order to maintain the level of enthusiasm that ramped up in 2017 and will no doubt resume once things get more or less back to normal. A series of sometimes conflicting messages coming from the company — often via Friday afternoon emails to buyers eager to take delivery of their vehicles — haven’t really done much to placate the masses.
Not Everything Can Be Attributed to the Pandemic
While it’s true that many of the unexpected delays and “on again, off again” production schedules have been largely out of Ford’s control, other aspects haven’t. Subcontractor woes, such as Webasto’s initial inability to keep up with the production demands of Bronco hardtops, followed by its out and out quality shortcomings, have caused some reputational damage to Ford, as many people understandably feel that it was Ford’s job to vet the Germany-based company at the start of the relationship to confirm that it was up to the coming production challenge, then stay on top of quality control so that the very real problems that have occurred — bending and delaminating components make for a less than pleasing visual — never had a chance to crop up.
Adding to the ill will has been the seemingly uneven availability of Broncos in general. For those would-be buyers still awaiting the arrival of their orders, several photo-based accounts of Broncos parked in a Detroit lot didn’t sit well, even though the fact that they were staged there to facilitate replacement of their faulty hard tops represented a completely logical excuse. Appearances matter.
In addition, despite long since having shelled out their deposit money, along with a larger, non-refundable financial commitment, before being asked by Ford to stand by as the company worked to restore equilibrium, many buyers likely stopped by a number of Ford showrooms to get their visual Bronco fix, where they would have seen Broncos — albeit a limited supply — holding court on dealer turntables awaiting purchase. This means that some lucky buyers with the means to pay well above MSRP had a crack at the new SUV before they did, without even having had to wait in line.
About Those Markups . . .
And, speaking of markups, while supply and demand have always had a direct effect on pricing, we nevertheless do tend to associate a vehicle’s MSRP with being at least in the neighborhood of what it will cost. Naturally, encountering a price that’s just marginally over MSRP is easily understandable, and happens regularly with popular models, but seeing markups that equate to as much 25% over MSRP and more, as we have in the case of the Ford Bronco, is jarring and helps underscore the notion that Ford hasn’t been keeping a close enough eye on dealer conduct.
These extreme markups, sometimes almost laughably referred to as “market adjustment fees”, may just be the final straw in pushing Ford to adopt an entirely different sales model — one where its physical dealerships could be relegated to servicing the product line and performing as pickup locations for vehicles already purchased. Tesla has adopted this model with consistent success.
This leads to a question as to whether Ford has acted wisely in dealing with the fallout that’s resulted from the last year and a half of chaos. Not long after the pandemic had hit full-force, Ford was sitting on a massive pile of orders that would have already been nearly impossible to fill on time. Some felt that it would have been a good idea to place a more long-term and definitive hold on new online orders entirely — even as it stands now some variations of the Bronco may not reach their intended garages until 2023, as frustrating as that seems.
As far as Ford’s attempts to soothe its buyers’ understandable impatience — you can’t drive a VIN number, after all — there have likely been some missteps in that area as well. Ford created its Bronco Satisfaction Fund to make financial resources available to its dealers to, in effect, try and “buy” their customers’ happiness, but it’s too soon to tell whether the program will have its intended effect.
Likewise, Ford has also offered enrollment in its inspired Bronco Off-Roadeo program, where new Bronco owners get valuable tutelage from professionals on how to extract the most from their new purchases in off-road situations, but the program itself isn’t being offered to them for free, which sends a mixed message. Also, with only a few Bronco Off-Roadeo locations strewn throughout the country, a Bronco owner looking to take Ford up on its pseudo-offer could potentially have to drive quite a distance to do so.
To keep things in perspective, even if Ford’s strategy for dealing with the challenges of the past year and a half has been something less than stellar, there isn’t a likely scenario where the fall-out will extract an appreciable toll on the Bronco’s continuing popularity. While the delays of the past year and half couldn’t help but create a certain amount of discontent, when the dust of the pandemic has fully settled, new owners will be placated by a thoroughly capable, rugged and well-reviewed SUV that appears to be more than up to the challenge of fulfilling Ford’s expectations for its launch.