Welcome to the most secretive room in the most secretive building at Ford: the legendary S Studio in the soon-to-be-demolished Product Development Center in Dearborn, where the Thunderbird, Mustang and the original Bronco were designed. Host Sonari Glinton gets a glimpse of clay model of the new Bronco before it launched last July and talks with Eric Wallace, a master modeler who began his career directly out of high school in 1986. Wallace is sculping the fine details by hand for the hood design. Although a mill robot cuts the clay based on a design created in 3D software, Wallace notes that machines can’t make changes as fast as a human or do the intricate detail work—his work adds the human touch that machines can’t replicate.
But what was the process that took Bronco from idea to Wallace’s clay model? Glinton talks to Paul Wraith, chief designer for Bronco. Wraith lived in Europe most of his life and wasn’t familiar with Bronco, yet he was fascinated with it. His first order of business: find out what makes a Bronco, a Bronco. Wraith wanted to pack 50 years of Bronco heritage into two words that would become the focus of everything they did. He started by taping pictures to the walls in his office: images of Broncos and other vehicles, pictures of moments, lifestyles, landscapes and materials then invited other designers to add to it. And leadership began gathering at the wall as well, also adding their own images and sticky notes. The wall was refined and curated. Images and sticky notes were then distilled to two words: “trusted and carefree”.
So how do you translate “trusted and carefree” to the new Bronco? The Ford archives held paper sketches and blueprints of the original Bronco, but the design team wanted to start the design from a digital rendering of an original Bronco. The solution was in the employee parking lot: Vice president of design Moray Callum’s 1976 Bronco. The design of the 1976 Bronco was not that different from the 1966 Bronco. The team scanned the Bronco and created a 3D rendering that they could use on a computer or in a virtual reality environment.
Ford CEO Jim Farley adds his perspective on Bronco’s return. He faced a similar situation as a Toyota executive when they decided to bring back the original FJ40, Toyota’s off-roader from the 1960-70s. Just like the Bronco the FJ40 had been out of production for decades. They introduced the FJ Cruiser, which had a couple of good years, then faded away. One of the lessons he learned was that the brand power of an old name can be short-lived. “When you get out of the market then get back in, there will always be a loyal fan base that will be there when it comes back,” said Farley. “But when everyone who wanted one has one, then what do you do?”
To answer that question and prevent Bronco from meeting the same fate as the FJ Cruiser, he looked at brands that have shown longevity. Using Mustang and Wrangler as examples he noted there is value in continuity and that people count on brands that endure and change over time. The current Wrangler is nothing like the Willys Jeep from the 1950s. It’s a product that is aspirational to young and old and is useful because it’s an everyday vehicle. When Mustang started out it was a commuter car; but it transformed into a sports car along the way. When a vehicle has continuity over decades the owner base is consistent and the imagination of the vehicle is consistent by remaining relevant as it changes with the times.
As the design for new Bronco got underway almost every day Paul Wraith was stopped by a Ford employee who had a story about a Bronco—their Bronco, their family’s Bronco as a kid, the neighbor who was restoring a Bronco, showing him pictures or toy models of Bronco, all to say “this is what the new Bronco should be”. With all the Bronco stories in his head Wraith couldn’t settle on a singular Bronco story, so he created five. Five stories from five real people with very different stories—an entirely new way of approaching design.
Mark Grueber, U.S. Consumer Marketing Manager, explains this new approach. They brought in the customers and had them speak directly to the Bronco team as to what they expected and wanted in a Bronco. The team simulated day in the life of each customer to get a better understanding of what would or wouldn’t work for them. Listen to the podcast (starting at 17:52) to hear the details of each of the five customer profiles. The approach also attracted the attention of senior leadership who were eager to hear what actual customers had to say.
Bring Back Bronco chronicles the rise, fall and rebirth not only of Bronco, but of Detroit as well. The podcast ends where it began in episode one, with the American dream. 25-year-old Matthew Rye is restoring his late father’s 1970 Bronco. When he sees someone with a Bronco he see someone who appreciates a piece of Americana and has the ability to explore. Calling himself a traditionalist, he has his eye on the new two-door Bronco. “People are pumped for another option” said Rye. “To see the Bronco be revived is just something for Americans to generally be excited about. It’s nice to see an old brand be revived in an American way.”
Fun Fact: CEO Jim Farley has a Ginger Bronco with Ranger package. “You might as well wear Hush Puppies and listen to Abba” said Farley. “It’s so ‘70s inside. It’s all brown shag carpeting, got an 8-track player, it’s got dual tanks, the low off-road rear end. It’s just so awesome. And it’s original, it’s not perfect. But it’s got 50,000 original miles and it hasn’t been touched.”
All episodes of Bring Back Bronco: The Untold Story, are available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and everywhere listeners find their favorite podcasts.
Here is the complete list of episodes:
Episode 1: The American Dream
Episode 2: Cracks in the Pavement
Episode 3: Going Downhill
Episode 4: End of the Road
Episode 5: Driving in the Dark
Episode 6: Stuck in the Mud
Episode 7: Green Light
Episode 8: Hold on Tight