Mark Grueber’s first day at Ford was June 12, 1996. âIt’s a fun story,â he says, an illuminated first-generation Bronco grille hanging on the wall behind him in his home office. It was the day that Ford built the last fifth generation Bronco, ending a production run that began in 1966 and launching what became known as the Bronco Underground, a group of people within Ford. dedicated to the return of the all-terrain SUV.
This year, they made their wish come true. The Bronco is back, and Grueber, now Ford’s chief marketing officer, is responsible for the brand’s present and future. Of course, he’s not the only one in his excitement, and Ford isn’t the only automaker to build on its past, even if it is perhaps the strongest. Aside from the Bronco, Ford is building on two other classic names, the Lightning and the Maverick, but applying them in new ways. And then he took his most iconic badge, Mustang, and put it on an electric crossover.
General Motors is preparing for the return of the environmentally maligned Hummer, but it’s now a 9,000-pound electric pickup and SUV. Acura is relaunching the Integra, which has been missing for more than two decades. Jeep relaunched the Wagoneer nameplate this year and put it on a luxury SUV built to park comfortably next to all the McMansions. And if you’re still wondering why manufacturers dived into the archives, you probably already know. It’s all about the money.
âA company that relies on an asset like Grand Wagoneer, why not use it? Said Elea McDonnell Feit, professor of marketing at Drexel University and former market researcher at GM’s Advanced Vehicle Development Center. Decades of communication and success (or failure) have made these names mean something to people. There is power in the sense and profit in the power, even if the strategies with the nameplates differ.
At Ford, dealerships dedicate separate showrooms to the Bronco and the smaller Bronco Sport crossover. Owners can visit one of the four Bronco Off-Rodeo Schools while dressed in Bronco merchandise, or wait and collect the merchandise on site. “Wagoneer is definitely the premium extension of Jeep”, Jeep CEO Christian Meunier said the Edge’s Decoder Podcast in October. But there are no Jeep badges on the new full-size SUVs. And while Hummer was its own brand under General Motors before its demise in 2010, it now comes under the umbrella of GMC.
General Motors questioned the return of the Hummer name because of its history, said Phil Brook, GMC vice president of marketing. Unlike Ford with the Bronco or the Jeep and the Wagoneer, GM is trying to change people’s perceptions associated with a name, and those perceptions are part of why it failed the first time around. The company attempted to sell Hummer to a Chinese manufacturer in 2010, but when that deal collapsed, GM shut down the brand because the trucks were inefficient.
âThe look on people’s faces when we said Hummer was coming back – they came by ‘really? “As soon as you say electric, anything that was worrying or negative evaporates completely,” says Brook. But GM will have to reiterate it. âThey can say Hummer, and that instantly means excess,â says McDonnell Feit. “They must also communicate the second part of the new message.”
NBA superstar LeBron James, who owned a Hummer H2 in his early years in the league, stars in new commercials for the Hummer, and the brand calls it the first all-electric supertruck. In the TV commercial, it’s thunderstorm, lightning, and the slogan “A Quiet Revolution Is Coming” appears onscreen to signal the truck’s electric powertrain. However, “automakers are notoriously bad at assuming that people get it,” McDonnell Feit says.
Americans also spend at higher prices, and Jeep realizes it. Its roots are in military-inspired all-terrain vehicles, but the brand’s best-selling model last year was the Grand Cherokee, which ranges from $ 35,105 to nearly $ 100,000 for the Trackhawk model. of 707 horses. The Grand Wagoneer is the company’s new flagship, and it can fetch prices of over $ 110,000 fully equipped. GMC is focusing on this as well, which is why it has put Hummer under its brand, rather than on its own as before. Brook says GMC’s highly-equipped Denali models account for almost half of its sales.
They don’t just spend more. Americans have a new desire for adventure and escape, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford sees this and enters the rugged off-road SUV space, dominated by the Jeep Wrangler for years, with the new Bronco. And he nailed the retro-inspired looks of the Bronco with near perfection, especially the grilles, which are reminiscent of the one hanging on Grueber’s wall.
Before the Broncofor its debut last summer, the Bronco Underground made three big attempts to bring it back. The first was when Ford built prototypes in 1999, but then the automaker was hit with the recall of over 14 million Firestone tires, mostly on its Explorer. Four years later, an awkward-looking silver Bronco concept was revealed, but it was not considered production ready. Then Ford tried to build a Bronco on a real platform, but the market was moving towards bigger four-door utility vehicles, not heavy-duty two-door SUVs. In 2013, Ford was in danger of losing the Bronco brand, so it released a One-Time Expedition and put the Bronco name on it.
The breakthrough came when the market shifted from sedans, says Grueber. Ford removed them from its lineup in 2018, freeing up space at Ford’s Michigan assembly plant when the Focus was phased out. âWe activated the metro and started to work out the plan to bring it back,â he says. Ford is now hoping its new Maverick compact pickup will attract these former sedan buyers.
These names evoke consumer nostalgia, reminders of yesteryear. Especially with millennials, points out McDonnell Feit. âAutomakers are trying to capitalize on Millennials’ fascination with anything that is old-fashioned,â she says. This demographic is listening to vinyl records again; binge-watching Strange things, the Netflix sci-fi series set in the 1980s; and, the Detroit automakers hope, by buying Broncos, Hummers and Wagoneers.
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