The redesign of the Ford Ranger has stopped and started more times than rush-hour traffic as it moved from an entry-level small pickup to a mid-size entry and back again in the concept phase. Ford insiders insist the 4-Trac concept shown at the Thailand International Motor Expo in Bangkok in late 2005 is the latest—and, they hope, final—take on the vehicle scheduled to hit North America in 2008. With Thailand’s position as both the largest small pickup market in the world and a low-cost producer, Ford sees the Asian nation as a center of excellence where it can design, develop, and produce light trucks jointly created by Ford and Mazda cost effectively.
The joint Ford/Mazda AutoAlliance Thailand (AAT) assembly plant currently builds the Mazda Fighter and Ford Ranger pickups, and ships to 130 markets. (It does not supply vehicles to North America, and the Ranger it produces is not the same as the vehicle of the same name sold in North America.) Under the latest plan, Ford’s smallest light truck offering will be a common global vehicle that eliminates the need to design and engineer a unique vehicle for North America, will give suppliers larger and more stable volumes, and force the adoption common design and development standards in this segment. In theory, these changes should help reduce costs and give Ford a low-cost manufacturing plant from which to source its entry-level pickups.
Yearly capacity at the AAT plant is 155,000 units, though this is expected to rise to 200,000 vehicles once a $500-million investment to upgrade the facility, support new vehicle programs, and expand capacity is complete in 2008. Output would have to rise substantially above this number, however, if Ford was to source the nearly 150,000 Rangers it currently sells in North America from Thailand. It is unlikely it would make so drastic a change so late in the game, especially when the Chinese market for small pickups continues to grow. However, the prospect of producing Rangers for sale in North America from outside the region is an idea that has grown in importance as Ford struggles to improve its profitability. Sourcing at least some of these vehicles, and parts for those produced elsewhere, from Asia is reportedly high on Ford’s list of priorities with this project.—CAS