The Ford Bronco Sport Is Fine—But About That Name…
Driving the new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is an exercise in explaining what it is and, equally important, what it isn’t. The new Bronco Sport is many things—off-road-capable, great to drive, and well designed—but what it isn’t is the Ford Bronco. I couldn’t drive anywhere in the Bronco Sport without hearing one of the following comments:
“Oh. That’s the new Ford Bronco? It’s smaller than I expected.”
“Bronco Sport? Like a Raptor?”
“Isn’t that supposed to be a convertible?”
The public aren’t the only people confused. Mainstream press—and even the occasional automotive media outlet—have at times mistaken the Bronco Sport for the “big” Bronco, using the former’s photos or specs to represent the latter. If the people who are paid to know these things get it wrong on occasion, how can the public be expected to keep things straight?
I don’t fault Ford for adapting the Bronco name to a family of vehicles—in fact, it’s a great business move—but in choosing the Bronco Sport name and launching the Bronco Sport first, Ford has set itself up for this headache.
What’s in a Name?
“Sport” has become an increasingly meaningless term in the auto industry. Tacked on as an afterthought to a name to mean “smaller” (in the case of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Nissan Rogue Sport) or as a trim level to mean “looks vaguely performance-oriented,” (Subaru Forester Sport) or “the cheap one” (Jeep Renegade Sport), “Sport” is a lazy way to name any new vehicle.
Ford seems to have known this. Back in 2019 when we first started reporting about the baby Bronco, the Blue Oval was bandying about two names: Bronco Scout and Bronco Adventurer. Of the two, Ford seemed to have really taken to the Bronco Scout name, even going so far as to file for trademark applications for both “Bronco Scout” and “Scout” for “land motor vehicles.” That’s likely where Ford ran into trouble. The Bronco-rivaling International Harvester Scout is long gone, but its corporate legacy lives on as part of Navistar International, which still owns the name for “land vehicles over 2,400 pounds,” including “pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.” (As an aside, Navistar International is itself partially owned by Traton SE, the Volkswagen Group’s truck and bus arm.)
With Bronco Scout off the table, Ford appears to have gotten cold feet on the name Bronco Adventurer, and instead of bringing back another name from its past (like Bronco II) or thinking up a new one, it rather lazily adopted the name Bronco Sport for the baby Bronco, thus ensuring the confusion of legions of customers.
The Broncos’ Odd Cadence
Usually when launching a new brand—sub or otherwise—you go with the halo product first. The Land Rover Range Rover sits atop a Range Rover lineup, which also includes the Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Velar, and Range Rover Evoque. Ford went the opposite with the Bronco due to plant availability, and the pandemic made things worse.
The new Bronco is to be built at the automaker’s Michigan Assembly Plant alongside the Ford Ranger. Although the Bronco and Ranger will eventually share a platform, the current Ranger rides on a unique platform as far as Ford’s North American operations are concerned. That means that to build the Bronco, Ford had to tool up the Michigan Assembly Plant from scratch, which takes time.
Built at the company’s Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant in Mexico, the Bronco Sport was always supposed to hit the streets first. Its C2 platform architecture is shared with the Ford Escape, which went into production in Hermosillo back in 2019. That makes the addition of a related model line relatively easy, but even so, Ford product planners likely didn’t anticipate a half year separating the on-sale dates for the baby and big Broncos.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed both vehicles’ launches, the baby Bronco to winter 2020 (from fall 2020) and the big Bronco to spring 2021 (from winter 2020). Compounding COVID, the worldwide chip shortage delayed things even further. The new Bronco is now set to hit dealer lots late this summer.
What Does This All Mean?
We reached out to Ford for comment on the Bronco Sport’s name and how it plans to combat public confusion over the two Broncos, but we have yet to hear back.
Despite general confusion surrounding the Bronco Sport’s position in the marketplace, ultimately, we suspect this will be a moot point. Few these days confuse a Discovery Sport for a Discovery. Once the Bronco finally goes on sale and starts becoming commonplace on streets across the country, we expect most Bronco Sport/Bronco confusion will quickly dissipate. In the meantime, though, Bronco Sport owners and Ford dealers ought to be prepared for lots of conversations that begin with, “Well, actually …”
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