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Fleets remain a focus as Ranger shifts upmarket
Ford Australia boss says Ranger will retain its workhorse roots, despite its show pony appeal
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25 Nov 2021
By MATT BROGAN
FORD Australia has released its highly anticipated new Ranger utility; the model introduces a polished and more refined aesthetic to a category that continues to advance upmarket with every passing year.
With its eye-catching exterior design and upmarket cabin, the new Ranger demonstrates how products in this once exclusively commercial vehicle-oriented sector have evolved significantly to meet an expanding customer base – a move that, for some of Ford’s rivals, has marked a shift away from the essential practical elements that have made utility pick-ups such useful tools of the trade.
But Ford Australia president and CEO Andrew Birkic insists the new Ranger’s higher sophistication has not come at the cost of agricultural, trade and fleet buyers, nor the level of capability they demand.
Speaking to GoAuto at the global unveiling of the new model this week, Mr Birkic said Ford had consulted “consciously and closely” with buyers from all demographics in many of the markets in which the Ranger is offered. This research, which began five years before the new model’s release, helped the brand to ensure that fleet buyers remained the focus of the Ranger despite its luxury-vehicle potential.
“The teams put a lot of thought into the content (of the new Ranger) and that content has to be customer specific. We know we have a loyal and strong non-private customer base – including government and national fleets, as well as small business operators – that utilise the Ranger, so we understand that we’ve got to strike the right balance,” Mr Birkic explained.
“Our role is to invest in the features that customers value… and I think we’ve found that balance. We have a lot of experience in this space. Globally, Ford is a major force in the truck market and we’re pretty strong in commercial vehicles in Australia as well.
“We consult heavily with fleet buyers to ensure that (entry grade) models will continue to meet their needs, and we conduct numerous research sessions with those customers before bringing a new model to market,” he said.
Mr Birkic said the Australian and New Zealand markets remained a priority for Ranger. Having consulted with local focus groups, strong consideration was given to the design of many of the vehicle’s practical elements. Ford relied on its Australian engineering base to develop and improve the Ranger and the You Yangs proving ground near Geelong was “pivotal” to testing the model’s extended capabilities.
Greater flexibility of the load area and tailgate, easier access to the tub, rated four-wheel-drive recovery points and space for a second battery under the bonnet were just a handful of features that were developed after discussions with Ranger owners. What’s more, customer feedback prompted Ford to introduce a more powerful turbo-diesel V6 for “load hauling, towing and extreme off-road work” and provide customisable spaces for trade and off-road accessories (among other inclusions) to the model.
“There are some nuances that you’re seeing in the (new Ranger) series that represents the local market and it’s part of our role to ensure that while it is a global truck, it also has to incorporate local content and appeal – whether that’s in the powertrain, grade line-up or in certain features,” Mr Birkic continued.
“A lot of that goes back to the original [T6 Ranger] in 2011. I think there was a substantial change in the category at that time and when the truck was designed, it was for work, play and family use. I think it delivered on these attributes and had class-leading timing,” he grinned.
The success of the Ranger in Australia is hard to dispute. Although its last significant update was back in 2015, the model continues to prove successful – still topping its segment despite its advanced age.
Mr Birkic said he attributed much of Ranger’s success to the mix of refinement and capability the model offered. Ford had invested heavily in ensuring the new model would continue its predecessor’s winning formula, irrespective of what role it was required to perform. The third-generation model builds on the success of the T6 platform and it is future-proofed by virtue of the numerous changes it incorporates.
“The car-like driving experience, the automatic transmission, the towing capacity… it was a wonderful platform to build and develop. We always invest in features that customers will value, but to be honest, we can’t be complacent,” he cautioned, insisting current Ranger customers would not be forgotten.
“There’s a burning desire among the engineering team to keep improving, but to improve in areas in which it adds value for the customer – our compass has to be the customer. What’s more, the Ranger’s DNA has to be at the centre of it all… Ranger stands for something, whether it’s aesthetics or capability, so it is really important that we’re true to that. I think we’ve delivered (with the new model),” he added.
While highly aware of the needs of agricultural, fleet and trade buyers, Mr Birkic was also cognisant that recreational four-wheel drivers and family buyers form an equally important portion of Ranger sales.
He said that Ford had worked closely with customers to ensure that the new Ranger’s technology, comfort and safety features were comparable to those of the brand’s family-sized SUV models.
“Certainly, the Ranger has a lot of recreational appeal and we see that with our broad buyer profile – we have a great global buyer profile – and I’m sure the new model will continue to attract new customers. That’s what happened for us back in 2011, and the pick-up market continues to remain very strong. We’re seeing a lot of people move to the segment because of the versatility trucks offer,” he stated.
“For family buyers, in particular, the interior (of the new Ranger) should prove very attractive. There’s a significant increase in the level of refinement as well as in terms of connectivity, safety and aesthetics. Based on our research findings, Ranger buyers are really proud of their vehicles – and we’ve invested a lot across the range to make sure that’s something we continue to make possible,” he concluded.
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