DETROIT — The Ford Bronco was billed as a thorn in the side of the Jeep Wrangler that would challenge the venerable model for off-road bragging rights ahead of its release a year ago.
It’s still early, but the Bronco’s long- awaited return appears to have expanded the segment instead of just eating into the Wrangler’s base. There looks to be room for more than one trail cruiser in the SUV market.
Even as the Bronco steadily carves out its own space, the Wrangler has been able to maintain its market share in the face of its first direct competition in years, according to an S&P Global Mobility report. The Bronco’s share has climbed to as high as 6 percent at times, S&P said, while the Wrangler continues to account for 7 to 9 percent of the compact SUV segment as defined by S&P.
The Wrangler was the Bronco’s most conquested vehicle during the nine-month period the study examined, from July 2021 through March 2022. In February, the Wrangler made up 10 percent of the Bronco’s conquests, the highest to date.
But the Wrangler is holding steady.
“It looks like the pie for off-road-oriented SUVs grew when the Bronco [was] added, rather than Bronco and Wrangler fighting over” the same slice of the market, said Stephanie Brinley, an S&P Global Mobility analyst. “The interesting thing about it will be if anybody else decides to join in. We’re not necessarily saying we’ve got a ton of growth opportunity in that space, but Bronco’s addition has made the pie bigger.”
Nick Anderson, general manager of Chuck Anderson Ford in Excelsior Springs, Mo., said he doesn’t recall taking in a single Wrangler yet as a trade for a Bronco. Some buyers are getting the Bronco as their third or fourth vehicle and not trading anything in, he said.
“I don’t think it’s really taking away the Jeep market,” Anderson said. “I think it’s giving people that never really gave that segment of vehicle a chance an opportunity to buy something that they want.”
Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, said he thinks Ford and Jeep both have to be satisfied with how their off-road rivalry is playing out so far.
The Bronco is “turning more people into adventure-seeking off-road enthusiasts,” Brauer said, “rather than taking some kind of fixed number of those and stealing them from Jeep.”
S&P Global said almost half of Bronco purchasers already have a Ford in the garage. The study found that Bronco customers tend to be slightly younger than Wrangler buyers, have marginally higher incomes and more often are men.
Anderson said the Wrangler has a cultlike following that is difficult to break into even if buyers like some of the Bronco’s technology. At this stage, he wouldn’t call it a sales race between the Bronco and Wrangler as much as it is a production battle, with Ford trying to fulfill a backlog of orders amid the ongoing microchip shortage.
“There was so much market anticipation and hype for the vehicle,” said Fernando Varela, owner of two Ford stores in Palestine and Kilgore, Texas. “What we’re doing is fulfilling orders for people that have placed orders for the last two years. They’re really not staying in inventory very long.”
Orders for the 2022 Bronco have closed. Anderson said he wouldn’t be surprised if Ford ends up selling out two or three years’ worth of Broncos before dealers are able to keep them in stock.
“I think the overall market is just going to grow” in the off-road department, Anderson said. “That’s where the Bronco’s going to step in and not necessarily gain market share from Jeep, but gain part of the new market share. That’s how they’re going to survive.”
Mike Marcotte, president of Marcotte Ford in Holyoke, Mass., said he hopes Wrangler owners can test drive Broncos as more inventory becomes available. He believes some can be won over.
“I think the more that are out there, obviously the more people can see them on the road,” the more new customers the Bronco can generate for Ford, Marcotte said. “We did have one in our rental fleet for about six months, which was great.”
While the Bronco continues to find its place, Jeep should “stay the course” with the Wrangler and “continue to reinforce the image of a unique, true off-roader,” said Tom Libby, S&P Global’s associate director of loyalty solutions and industry analysis for automotive.
There is a plug-in hybrid version of the Wrangler, unlike the Bronco, and Jeep tends to periodically release other variations to keep buyers interested.
“Jeep’s going to update the vehicle because that’s what they do,” Brinley said. “You’ve got 4xe, 392 and different versions of the Wrangler, so there’s still plenty for them to do with it.”