With the 2021 Ford Bronco scheduled to be revealed soon, we decided to dedicate part of this week to all things Bronco. We’ve already taken a look at how the Jeep Wrangler should influence the new Bronco, as well as the lessons Ford should learn from the Toyota FJ Cruiser.
But for the final piece in this mini-series, we wanted to speak to someone who knows Broncos better than anyone else. So we called up Jonathan Ward, the CEO and lead designer of Icon, to get his thoughts on what the 2021 Bronco should be, based on everything he’s learned turning first-generation Broncos into modern masterpieces.
Here’s what Ward had to say.
Think Outside the Trim Level Box
Currently, if you want a Wrangler with navigation, you also have to pay for an upgraded sound system, an auto-dimming rear mirror, and satellite radio. Packaging popular options together like that is super common these days, but Ward thinks Ford needs to go the other direction and let buyers order a Bronco with the exact combination of options they want.
“I think it would be really smart if they were to offer not their typical XL, XLT kind of package bundled crap, but to really understand that if the product is done right it’s going to create a revolution in the aftermarket and going to be more how people like to configure Jeeps traditionally. Meaning not bundling everything together and allowing people to line-item pick specific functions that they want all the way down to a fully stripped example that then they can build up the way that they envision.”
Go High-End, Too
Perhaps because he’s already getting calls from potential customers looking to have Icon upgrade their Bronco after it goes on sale, Ward also thinks Ford should take aim at luxury off-roaders such as the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, in addition to the Wrangler.
“On the opposite side of the spectrum, perhaps it’s partially selfishly minded, I think it would be kickass if they looked at something like a Raptor edition as well as something like a King Ranch or Platinum where, well, I’d love to see them do an Icon edition, that has not only the best of the mechanical configurations but then elevated trim and tech dial packages with potentially more exciting materials and elevated quality and touch. … I think versatility will be key in that this is a vehicle that could offer greater fit and finish and drivability than the Jeep while still meeting or exceeding its off-road capability as well so that race on Saturday, work on Monday sort of thinking could be really exciting.”
Make it Modular
When we brought up the two Ford patents we discovered recently (removable doors and a cloth roof), Ward went even further and said he thought Ford should basically turn the Bronco into a fully modular vehicle.
“Well, isn’t that a nifty discovery. So that would allow me to then elaborate on your discoveries to say that the modularity of a multi-panel removable hard top, as well as a soft top, would be exceptionally cool.”
A Two-Door Bronco is a Necessity
Almost since Ford announced plans to bring back the Bronco, we’ve been hearing rumors that there will be a two-door model. According to Ward, offering a two-door Bronco wouldn’t just be a good idea. It’s essential to the Bronco’s success.
“Let’s just say I sure hope that they launch with the two-door, staying true to the Bronco heritage and aren’t distracted by the Jeep sales numbers of the four-doors enough to launch it as a four-door vehicle going for probably the obvious higher sales volume. But again, it’s been such an important heritage mark that I think it would be critical that the top is removable and that there is a two-door in the lineup and then certainly then a four-door would be welcomed, but if there was no two-door I would worry they would be making a significant mistake.”
It Shouldn’t Be Too Retro
As cool as it would be for the new Bronco’s styling to be right out of the 1960s, when we asked Ward about a super retro design, he didn’t think it would be a good idea.
“That’s not how I would build it if it were my decision because … that sort of immediately creates a very temporary design, right? Versus, if you stay more true to the boxy, linear, utilitarian form of the original, there is plenty of room to evolve that for modern usage and safety and such but to stay very close to those heritage traits. Even the, what was it, the 2002 prototype? If they dropped that as the design tomorrow everyone would be stoked. I think that was a really good example of contemporary but clearly referencing and influenced by the original. It stayed honest and true, but it wasn’t trying to act like it wasn’t a new design. So I think that even was spot on. I’ve driven that thing too. That truck’s cool.”
A V-8 Would Be Great
Ward said he doesn’t think it would ruin the new Bronco if Ford only gave it the turbo-four found in the Ranger. But that doesn’t mean he thinks a V-8 is a bad idea.
“Obviously, if they got a little rowdier and had the traditional V-8 there’s certainly an audience that would prefer that. But I do think consumers are getting more and more conditioned to accept and even appreciate the prowess of these new Fords they’re doing.”
He also hopes the pushback Ford’s gotten over putting a turbocharged V-6 in the GT and Raptor has convinced Ford to skip that option in favor of a V-8.
“I think you can make an argument for the GT from a technical and weight angle. But for the Bronco and for any truck I think it’s a harder argument to not allow any. … American truck buyers, whether [Ford likes it or not], still have a very strong connection to a traditional V-8.”
But a Manual Is More Important
When it comes to transmissions, Ward is a lot less open-minded about newer technology being better. No matter how good automatics have gotten, he says the new Bronco absolutely has to have a manual transmission option.
“I think I would call it critical. There are so few manual offerings these days and if you just think about utility and capability, the truck would certainly appreciate an eight with a manual. I think it would be a travesty if it wasn’t available with a manual. I’d give up the V-8 before I’d want to give up the manual.”
Don’t Let It Near Focus Groups
From the sound of it, Ward thinks the Bronco team knows what it needs to do to get things right. What really worries him, though, are focus groups. Or more specifically, executives giving too much weight to the opinions of focus groups and forcing the Bronco team to make changes they know shouldn’t be made.
“I’m worried about focus groups, because traditionally OEMs build magnificent teams with visionary designers and engineers, who really all understand the marque and the make and the heritage and the value and they put all their heart and soul into it to get it to 95 percent, and then these OEMs bring in focus groups, which generally mean people that have nothing else better to do than get free coffee in a styrofoam cup and $100 for a day out of their life, to stand there and speak their opinion. And way too often, and this is the common reason why lead designers leave large automotive firms, everyone knee jerks and reacts to this panel of non-experts and changes the course of the design. And this has happened so many times all the way through to something as mundane as the Chevy Volt concept, that I just hope that leadership holds the line because it’s such an important line.”
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