The 2021 Ford Bronco is being revealed on July 13th, a date that has been pushed back a few times now, most recently due to a hilarious coincidence placing the release date on the birthday of a certain former NFL running back who (in)famously drove a white Ford Bronco.
I use the term “revealed” quite loosely here, because we already know what the thing looks like, the transmission options, and many of the general specifications, through a series of leaked photos and documents. One thing we do not know, however, is how much money Ford will demand for this long-awaited revival of what will surely be the Jeep Wranglers only real competition.
I love Wranglers. I currently own one as a daily driver and would probably replace it with another Wrangler if mine happened to spontaneously combust tomorrow (not ruling that out). That being said, they’re objectively terrible vehicles. Rough, uncomfortable, cramped, slow, unreliable, drink fuel like an inaccurate and offensive stereotype of an Irishman drinks booze. The newest JL generation that released in 2018 has seemingly done a lot to remedy these issues, at least compared to the previous generation JK, but stacked up against other SUVs in its size category even the much-improved JL is still pretty abhorrent. Yes, one could argue that many of the downsides of the Jeep are inherent to its design as an off-roader, the short wheelbase, solid axles and high ground clearance (resulting in a high center of gravity) all contribute to making them handle like a sledgehammer with a pool noodle as a handle, but my point is that Ford really does not have very stiff competition here. They just have to make a Wrangler fighter that simply isn’t hot garbage.
The Bronco showing up with independent front suspension, something that is absolute heresy to the purists, should provide more comfort and better handling than what the big chonky Dana on the front of the Wrangler can manage. Ford’s EcoBoost engines, which I believe at this point we are only assuming will be available in the Bronco, should deliver both vastly superior torque and perhaps somewhat superior fuel economy over the Jeep. For random people just walking in off without brand loyalty, just looking for a ‘hip’ lifestyle vehicle that announces their love of the outdoors to everyone else living in their crowded subdivision, I am predicting that the Bronco will be the more appealing option to members of that demographic.
We know a lot about the Bronco, and there is a plethora of reasons why the Bronco could “beat” the Wrangler, but at the end of the day there is still one big piece of information we do not yet know, which will ultimately be the deciding factor in how much success the Bronco finds: the price.
Will Ford come to the conclusion that the Wrangler is disgustingly overpriced and undercut it? Will they feel their potentially superior product has more value than the Jeep and charge more? Will they look the Wrangler dead in it’s perfectly round headlights and say “we are equals” with a mostly similar price? The direction Ford decides to take here will make or break the Bronco in my eyes.
I swear, I love Wranglers. But, they are too expensive. They just are. I find it very hard to believe that the sum of their material cost and labour in assembly is in any way reflected in the cost. Simple ladder frame construction, uncomplicated axles and suspension, sure the most recent generation added a bit of aluminum here and modern technology there, but it still doesn’t add up to me.
For the purposes of this exercise, I will be using Canadian market MSRPs, but the percentages and ratios should still translate similarly to American prices for anyone south of that border.
In Canada, the starting price of a new Jeep Wrangler (at the time of writing, July of 2020) is $36,295. Now, keep in mind, the base Wrangler is basic, we are talking no AC, crank windows, manual door locks, plane-jane steelies, short of things required by those pesky government people like ABS and backup cameras, a base model Wrangler is one of the few vehicles left that have retained the concept of an actual bare-minimum base model vehicle. Oh, and it’s a 2 door NA V6 manual, which yes, is probably the best combination for a Jeep, but that does not change that there is physically less vehicle present to charge for.
$36K. What else can we buy in Canada for $36K? A very well equipped Honda Accord 2.0T Sport comes in at $35,490. Oh, you want an SUV? A 2019 VW Atlas (because I don’t see 2020 prices listed on their website yet?) starts at $36,740, which even in base form has shockingly advanced features, like power windows, remote door locks, air conditioning, an automatic transmission, and 4 doors.
Ok, ok, let’s level the playing field a bit. The base model Wrangler is overpriced but if you start comparing it to things like the Toyota 4Runner, probably the most frequent go-to alternative for the Wrangler in 2020, starts at a lofty $48,120. But, I want to make things fair, so I’ll do my best to spec a 2020 Wrangler to match what comes available in a base model 4Runner. So, I’m coming up with a Wrangler Unlimited Sport S, V6, automatic, Trailer Tow & HD Electrical Group, Technology Group, and the hard top roof, to put it on pretty equal footing in terms of features with a base model 4Runner, shows me a total of $50,970 before rebates. What I can’t stress enough here, is that at over 50 grand, this still is not a fancy vehicle: it still has unpainted black plastics everywhere, it still has relatively basic wheels, it still has boring looking halogen bulbs, and doesn’t have any of the fancy modern safety amenities like blindspot detection or forward collision brake assist. When you consider something like the Honda Passport starting at just under $42K or the Kia Telluride sneaking in under $45K, the fact you have to get over $50K just to get a Wrangler in the same ballpark in terms of features is pretty ridiculous.
To add to this insanity, has been the increase in Jeep prices over the last decade-or-so. When the then-new JK launched in 2007, it had a starting price of $18,765 in Canada. The 2018 Wrangler JK, 11 years later, in its final year of production, had a starting price of $29,295. That is an increase of about 56%… during the same generation. There really isn’t that much of a difference, sure in 2011 the interior got a facelift and 2012 replaced the old 3.8L V6 with the newer 3.6L, but in terms of what equipment came standard there really was not a huge change, if any at all. Jump up to the current generation, which, yes, is generally improved over the JK but still similar in terms of features at $36,295, that is a massive 94% increase in base price.
The Wrangler has essentially doubled in price in the last 13 years, which is far beyond the industry norm, for anyone about to have thoughts about inflation. Out of curiosity I looked up the starting price of a 2007 4Runner in Canada: $39,970, so the 2020 4Runner is around 21% more than its 13 year previous counterpart. Just as another frame of reference, the Honda Accord, which I’ve always considered to be a shining beacon of normalcy, had a starting MSRP of $24,800 in 2007, compared to its starting price of $28,490 in 2020 that is only about a 15% increase. As a final point of data to use when considering how absolutely explosive the increase in Wrangler pricing has been, consider that the value of the Canadian dollar, according to various online calculators, has gone up by about 21.8%. If you went to check the prices of basically any vehicle from 2007, in Canada at least, it will almost certainly be somewhere in the range of a 20-percent-ish increase. Except the Wrangler.
Ok, so a Wrangler is basically unparalleled as an SUV in that price range in terms of off-road capability, and the fact the doors and roof can come off puts it in a unique corner of the market that many people are willing to pay more for. I fail to be convinced that there is a significant material cost to this. The Wrangler uses basically the most simple form of construction you can have with a vehicle, it uses simple parts, and, in more basic forms, has very little in the way of technology. It is my belief that Jeep believes they have this niche entirely covered and that they can charge whatever they want for a Wrangler because, well, if you want a convertible SUV off roader, what other choice do you have? I cannot say I blame Jeep for taking advantage of this situation. At the end of the day they are a business with the primary objective of selling cars and making money, and making more money off of a niche market is good business.
This is why the price of the Bronco could be important. If the Wrangler is indeed overpriced, and if the Bronco is indeed very similar to the Wrangler in construction, could one not conclude that Ford could sell their Bronco for significantly less money than a Wrangler? Or at least offer more equipment as standard, and have a similar starting price? I feel like Jeep is, or at least should be, shaking in their boots right now. They have had such a tight and unchallenged chokehold on this market since… When did the FJ Cruiser go out of production? Wait, they’re still making them overseas? Neat. Anyway, Jeep is about to have their first real challenger to their crown in years, it’s showing up with an iconic name and lore, and a design that makes the competition obvious to even the uneducated.
If Ford could show up with a lower price, or more features for the same price, it could send a pretty significant shockwave through Jeep in terms of sales. How would Jeep react? Reduce the price of the Wrangler, delivering a slap in the face to any previous customers? Cram more options into the base model, driving the prices of higher trims down, and pissing off those weird purists who actually like buying Jeeps that feel like they were built in 1993? Or, more realistically, will Ford just look at Jeep’s success in charging a premium for a niche vehicle, and copy their pricing, being less of a threat to Jeep who has greater brand recognition at the end of the day?
I, really, truly do love the Wrangler. I’m sure I’ll buy another when mine bites the dust, despite its flaws. But, I know it can be better, and I am sure it could be cheaper, which is why I am excited for the Bronco. I want the Bronco to be better, have better pricing, more standard features, and I would love to see the Bronco outsell the Wrangler. Why? Well, competition is the driving force behind improvement. Jeep has gone unchallenged, they are capable of being better but see no reason to try because they have no benchmark set, no target or goal to beat, other than the ones they impose on themselves. Look at how the Mustang stagnated during the Camaro’s hiatus, or the STI’s lack of major improvements since its main foil, the Evo, decided to stop improving and eventually die. Even if you are a fanboy of a certain brand, or the blood-born sworn enemy of a specific car because it is the main competition against your favorite car, it still makes sense to hope that every now and then your favorite gets “beat” because really all that means is your favorite eventually has to come back stronger, but that cycle needs to stay in motion to see real, long term improvement. I hope that the Bronco ends up better than the Wrangler, not because I want to see anyone lose, but because it means the Wrangler will need to improve again. Or just get cheaper. I’d be fine with cheaper.