Now Would Be a Good Time for Ford to Bring Back the Ranger

2011 was a rough year for small, compact pickup truck fans. That was the last year that the Ford Ranger, in its U.S. spec, graced the American market, to be pulled for 2012 with no promises of return. The GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado were pulled a year after, leaving the market for small trucks alone to the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. The Dodge Dakota provided the other bookend, as it was yanked in 2010.

Both of those trucks have their merits, to be sure, but the space left by the absence of the aforementioned Ranger and GM models forced consumers to either upgrade to the larger F-150 and Silverado trucks (or the Ram 1500) if they were committed to buying an American brand. And while the Colorado and Canyon are back, Ford hasn’t made any indication that the popular Ranger would be returning to reclaim the company’s piece of the midsize truck pie.

However, the truck is flourishing abroad, at least to the point where Ford felt it was worth it to overhaul the aging compact pickup and give it the same aggressive, refreshed look that was also applied to the international-only Everest SUV. The results, as you can see in the teaser clip above, give the compact truck some big-rig type attitude.

Sadly, though, chances are good that the renewed Ranger won’t be coming to the U.S. for a couple of reasons, despite widespread interest in smaller trucks domestically. The first is largely a strategic business decision made by Ford; the second is the Chicken Tax.

In the U.S., Ford sells a lot of F-150s. The F-Series trucks as a family generally sell in the neighborhood of 700,000 units per year, making it the most popular line of vehicles in the United States; the F-150 is an integral part of the line’s success. Also good for Ford is that trucks overall tend to boast significant margins and are the profit-generating machines of the American automotive sector. And with prices of new trucks exceeding $60,000 for higher-trim packages, business is good.

Should Ford introduce the Ranger back into the U.S. market, it could see erosion of the margin-heavy F-150s, as buyers who swear by the Blue Oval decide they don’t need a full-size pickup after all. Smaller trucks are built on the idea of a simple runabout that can get work done but also be civilized enough to serve as a daily driver. They’re simple, affordable, and easy and cheap to maintain — essentially the opposite of what today’s limo-trucks are becoming. As a result, they generate smaller margins and profits for the companies that build them, which could in turn pollute Ford’s winning model, even if it means not competing in the midsize truck segment. Then, there’s the Chicken Tax.

The Chicken Tax, originally formed by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration under seemingly noble circumstances at the time, imposes a 25% tariff on — among other things, mainly food items — small trucks that are being imported into the country. This was a sort of retaliatory middle finger to West Germany in the moment, but its ripple effect still prohibits many great smaller trucks from entering the U.S. market unless they’re built here.

This would mean that Ford would have to invest many millions in establishing the production space in the United States to build the new Ranger, and while that sounds good and dandy for the American economy, there’s no saying that it will be able to guarantee for sure that the company would sell enough Ranger units to justify the cost.

But we think Ford should do it. Not just because of our fondness for small trucks — smaller trucks have a very valid place in the market, despite the trend toward larger models that many don’t really need. Like the F-150s, Silverados, and Ram 1500s, the midsize segment has also grown in size. Standing behind both a Chevy Colorado and Silverado side by side in Los Angeles, it’s apparent that despite the claims of the Colorado being the smaller truck, the gap between the two segments is fairly minimal.

Small trucks were once essentially cars with open cargo beds. Between the four cylinders and the two-seater cabs (or three, with a bench), Larry Homeowner has the capability to dispose of his lawn clippings, pick up a dresser, tow a small trailer, and do so without having to shell out $100 for a tank of gas every week. There’s still room in the market for these vehicles despite the upstream move by even the smaller trucks of late.

Next year, General Motors will be introducing a 2.8-liter diesel engine to its Colorado and Canyon lineup. This will undoubtably provide a healthy dose of torque while besting even the highest fuel economy figures in the pickup segment to date, and buyers who aren’t necessarily committed to one badge or another will likely find them exceptionally appealing, assuming their prices remain reasonable. So if Ford is concerned about potential Ranger sales eating into sales of the F-150, they may want to consider what a successful diesel Colorado might do instead.

The Ranger’s new look and aggressive attitude would fit in handsomely with Ford’s American lineup, and perhaps find itself a loyal fan base akin to the one created by the earlier generations. Sadly, that likely won’t happen.

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