Ford Product Chief Talks 2021 Ford Bronco SUV Development
When Jim Hackett took over as CEO of Ford in 2017, he brought with him a design approach he calls “viable minimum prototypes”. In short, Hackett’s mindset is that an automaker should avoid paying too much money into expensive prototype vehicles, which often results in a company feeling financially compelled to see a project potentially less than completion.
Ford used this approach to create the Mustang Mach-E 2021 electric crossover, as well as the Bronco 2021 SUV. In the latter case, Hackett’s method allowed the team to play with elements such as doors and the removable roof of the vehicle, as well as the placement of the body panels and side mirrors of the Bronco, while giving them the possibility of bypassing the fine line between creating a tribute to the original Bronco while making the SUV fresh and relevant.
The creation of the Ford Bronco 2021 took the typical three years from the idea to the production-ready vehicle, said Hau Thai-Tang, director of product development and purchasing at Ford. MotorTrend in an interview before the global reveal of the Bronco 2021.
Bronco family including Raptor?
The development of the model was done knowing from the start that it would lead to a family of Bronco badged vehicles, starting with the Bronco bodywork on two- and four-door chassis and the Bronco Sport monohull. Thai-Tang would not talk about future electrification projects or a Bronco Raptor.
However, he shared that using cheaper prototypes has led to the features he thinks Bronco customers will appreciate the most. The team was encouraged to use “non-precious prototypes that we build very quickly, and then test them with customers for feedback and refinement. So we did a lot with foam core models to explore ideas around removable doors, removable top. “
Because the program didn’t spend a lot of money on concepts and prototypes, “you can fail quickly and then rotate, use learning to move on.” Using foam models, the team realized that four full-frame doors were heavy to remove and difficult to store. It was a problem that needed to be resolved. Designers and engineers knew of Jeep Wrangler customers who would remove the doors at the start of a trail, chain the items to a tree, and then return to pick up the parts. It’s not always easy or practical, “so we developed a frameless door that allowed us to store all the doors in the back of the vehicle and take them with you,” said Thai-Tang.
Move these outside mirrors
The foam models also led to positioning the side mirrors of the Bronco at the base of the A-pillar (while respecting the regulations covering the required field of vision). Designers and engineers could get inside the mockup and get a good idea of the visibility, said Thai-Tang.
The development process also took advantage of virtual reality. The global approach is institutionalized across Ford for global product development and is also applied to business models. The result is a 30% reduction in engineering costs, as well as time to market, said Thai-Tang. “This is very important. You can find a better solution and you don’t spend a lot of time and resources to make something very expensive that comes out of expensive prototype tools. It allows you to be much faster, more economical . “
Bring back an icon
As for the redesign of the Bronco, the product manager said it was not intimidating to bring back the iconic Ford model. The team had previous experience in the evolution of the Mustang. In some ways, Bronco was easier because it had been removed from the market long enough for many potential customers to remember it – or they only remembered the white O.J. Bronco. Pursuit by car from Simpson. The biggest challenge: “How much do you want to pay tribute to in the past and how to move it forward so that you are not just a conservative.”
Expanding the Bronco name was an intentional strategy. Ford chief operating officer Jim Farley has acknowledged that the SUV segment continues to grow, however, there is a lot of competition and options are quickly becoming commonplace. “If you do not have a differentiated product position in the market, it is very difficult to control the price value. So we have intentionally made the decision, we are not going to target the middle – we are not trying to sell vanilla ice cream, but Rocky Road and, possibly, Superman ice cream – to appeal to a unique set of customers. “
“So we intentionally declared that we would make a Bronco family with two doors, four doors and Bronco Sport. And we deliberately repositioned the Escape to be a more progressive road vehicle, which created space for Bronco. Sport to go to the other extreme: the all-terrain enthusiast. I think it will work well for us. It will not replace one another. So we will gain new customers and differentiate themselves from everyone in the market, which will allow us to control prices, “said Thai-Tang.
Ford is confident that the new products, which are part of the shift from cars to SUVs and vans, will bear fruit. The Bronco will be built at the company’s Michigan assembly plant that once manufactured the Ford Focus and Ford C-Max. “We decided to leave the traditional sedans, and we took the money we would have used to update them and used it to market new products like Bronco and Bronco Sport,” said Thai-Tang. In 2021, when the Michigan assembly plant builds the Ranger and Bronco, the plant will generate an additional $ 1 billion in annual profit over car manufacturing. The car shutdown was controversial, “but the decision was worth $ 1 billion at the plant from next year.”