Some eras, like presidential administrations and world wars, have clear borders. Others, like when trucker hats became uncool again, are harder to pin down. This is a case of the former, because last week, the UAW announced the death of the US Ford Ranger, and by extension, the end of the small truck in America. The last example will exit the factory in December of this year.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in 1976. You’re wearing flared jeans and Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” is not hesitating to croon from your AM radio. Automakers and motorists alike are still reeling from the Oil Crisis. Datsun and Toyota have just entered the American truck market, and Chevrolet are churning out Luvs, soon to be festooned with cheap tonneau covers and whatever else their buyers have lying around (these minitrucks soon to be replaced by Chevy’s S-10 in 1982).
In those days, the suits at Dearborn were looking to design their own small truck, one as efficient as a car but as durable as an F-Series. It would be even smaller than their old F-100, but would have all the capability of a full-size truck. And after four years of design and implementation, they had one, the Ranger. The name had previously been used for a trim level on the F-100, and while the moniker may have been too obscure to be evocative, customers bought them in droves, and the Ranger became an instant American icon.
In fact, the Blue Oval sold over 7 million Rangers during the little truck’s 29 year run in America. Some were rebadged as Mazdas, perhaps in hopes of wooing buyers impressed with Japanese reliability.
Sadly, those impressive sales numbers have been on a steady, even decline for more than a decade. While almost 350,000 were sold in 1999, last year Ford only dealt just over 55,000. It was only a matter of time. Ford isn’t alone in abandoning the compact pickup. The S-10 disappeared in 2004, to be replaced by Chevy’s mid-sized Colorado, and even the old Japanese contenders beefed up their trucks, the Tacoma and Frontier swelling to fit the mid-size niche.
So why doesn’t Ford follow suit and simply replace the Ranger with a mid-sizer? Why don’t they follow through on those persistent F-100 rumors? Because there isn’t a need. Ford’s EcoBoost turbochargers in everything from the Focus to the F-150 are kicking around the competition like hockey pucks. And because that F-150 now has a turbocharged V6, its MPGs are almost affordable. Why buy a small truck with decent mileage when you can get a big truck with the same?
Sadly, like the small car, the small truck is dead in America. Culprits include safety standards and market mindsets caused by, er, safety standards. So while we mourn the loss of the Ranger and lay back to dream of what might have been (an EcoBoosted model?), let us remember the Ford Ranger’s long and faithful service. It was a college student’s best friend, the perfect fleet truck for auto parts stores, and a handy man’s indispensable weapon of choice. The Ranger is dead. Long live the Ranger.
Have you ever owned a Ranger? Brag or complain about it below.