As seemingly untouchable as the “Ranger” badge is to Ford, the company has nevertheless made preparations to close its small truck plant in Minnesota in the near future, possibly at the end of 2009. This is hardly unexpected. The current Ranger is nearly 15 years old, and it shows. However, if the Asian truck concept that has been making the rounds at auto shows is any indication of the future, Ford has an aggressive replacement in the works.
That is if Ford doesn’t completely make an exodus from the small truck segment altogether like it did with the minivan. The lackluster sales of the Ranger in the last couple of years is a case of Ford letting the model whither on the vine. Rather than continue to upgrade the vehicle over time, the company opted to simply milk it for all its worth until sales have completely dried up and they are left with either abandoning the small truck segment or completely reinventing their place in it.
A reinvention, or rebirth, would be exactly what a production version of the Ranger MAX concept would seem like. The chief designer cites power tools as the primary inspiration for the concept which sports a significant size increase to the latest Ranger and a host of beefed up styling elements and features, including 18 inch wheels and a sportsbar behind the cab. The tough image of the MAX is continued in the lower body side panels, which were inspired by rock-climbing equipment. The Ford Truck-DNA can be seen in the three-bar grille and fender side vents that are a part of other vehicles from the company. If the concept was built around an existing Asian market Ranger, like in Thailand, it would likely be powered by either a 2.5L or a 3.0L inline four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Exact powerplant specifications, however, have not been solidified yet.
Those that follow the auto industry in Asia believe that the concept’s debut at the Bangkok auto show last fall was a part part of Ford’s plan to shore up its image in Thailand, where its pickup sales are well behind most other manufacturers. The Ranger is nearly at the bottom of the sales chart behind Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Chevrolet. In the first 10 months of this year, Mazda and Ford sold some 6,000 units each compared to 100,000 achieved each by Toyota and Isuzu. Thailand is an extremely important market for truck sales, with only the U.S. buying more units worldwide every year