We posted some conjecture about the Ranger not too long ago, with some Photochops to illustrate possible ways Ford could keep its smallest pickup alive. Automotive News has looked in to their crystal ball and determined that the future of the Ranger is murky, at best. The first bad sign is that the St. Paul, MN Ranger plant is slated to be closed in 2008. With no place to build the Ranger, it would seem to have one foot in the grave, along with the rest of the segment, not counting the evergreen Toyota Tacoma (which is not particularly small anymore). All is not lost, however. As we offered, there are existing platforms that would lend themselves to truckification, as well as actual trucks in different markets.
[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]
Thailand builds the Mazda BT-50, which could slot into the Ranger's position in the model heirarchy, though it might upset the Explorer Sport-Trac's sales by being similar in size and likely price. Other options under the worldwide FoMoCo umbrella are Brazil's Courier and Australia's Falcon Ute, which seem like better options to us. We'd love to see the Ranger name continue, and the truck to keep its compact stature by sharing a car-based platform. Basing a new Ranger on unibody architecture makes a lot of sense to us, as well. Weight would be reduced, the ride and handling would improve and it'd still be able to tow as much as the current Ranger, we'd bet. Picking a pre-existing unibody platform to morph also keeps development costs lower, and sharing as many bits and pieces as possible would make a new Ranger cost less. Cost is a major issue with the Ranger, it's just too darned expensive now to sell well. A prospective Ranger buyer can step in to an F-series for not much more. Building a cost-effective Ranger replacement outside the US may be a no-go because of import tariffs, though federalizing some of that engineering and building locally may be viable if a plant can make room.
Ford's been mum about the ultimate plan for the Ranger, though we're sure they'd be loath to let it go. Keeping it around may be a tough sell, though, as the Blue Oval is bleeding cash, and there's definitely not money to throw at a total re-do of a low-volume seller. That said, sounding the death knell for the entire compact pickup segment may be a bit premature. While it appears that there's no action there, we think all the segment really needs to take off is a truck that captures people's attention and little trucks will be hot again.