It’s the 1960s all over again. Thirty years ago, every manufacturer was working hard to capture Baby Boomers and sell them everything from clothes to cars. Today those Baby Boomers are pushing 60, and might as well be invisible to the automotive industry. It’s the Generation Xers and Yers that GM, Ford and the like are desperately seeking. Described as active, innovative and technologically savvy, these 18- to 30-year-olds are being catered to in the hopes that their loyalty will help secure the future of many automotive brands.
The Ford Ranger is a great example. Although the Ranger is the best-selling compact pickup truck on the market, and has been for 13 years (1999 sales figures topped 350,000 units), younger buyers are looking for more exciting products to move them around. A vehicle like Nissan’s new Xterra is a big hit, as are the Chevrolet S-10 Xtreme and Honda CR-V, or even concept products like the Subaru STX pickup and Chevrolet SSR. Although Ford had a record-breaking sales month in February, Ranger sales were off more than five percent.
Ford’s idea was to create a Ranger version especially geared toward the youth market, and tie it in with the introduction of the all-new 2001 Ranger this coming October. Shown to the public for the first time at the Chicago Auto Show earlier this year, the Edge is so named because it will be a bit “edgier” than the regular Rangers. It will offer a host of features designed to appeal to high school and college-age kids, as well as be affordable.
Drew Cook, marketing manager for Ranger, understood what needed to be done. “Current Ranger buyers are a lot older than you would think,” he said. “The goal of the Ranger Edge is to attract a younger customer into the Ranger lineup. The truck will provide good value; our goal is to market a product that hits on attributes that drives the youth market.”
The Edge isn’t necessarily designed to lure buyers away from sport utilities or sedans, but to provide them with a value-based, good-looking and versatile pickup truck. Cook, as a matter of fact, doesn’t forecast much change for the compact segment of the marketplace. “We [Ford] feel the compact pickup industry will maintain its current level, roughly one million units a year.” Nor does he feel that the new Ford Explorer Sport Trac will cannibalize Ranger or Ranger Edge sales. “We do not expect Sport Trac to take away from Ranger sales. Those buyers are in a different life stage than Edge customers.” For those of you who don’t speak marketing, that means the Sport Trac will appeal to an older buyer; you know the 31 and up age group who are walking with canes and filling out medicare and social security applications.
So what does the Ranger Edge have to offer the diaper-and-pacifier set? Most notably, the availability of Ford’s new 4.0-liter SOHC V6, good for 205 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque. That’s a 40-horsepower/15 foot-pounds boost over the current 4.0. The catch here is that this is the optional engine. The Edge comes standard with the venerable Vulcan 3.0-liter V-6 of 150 horses and 185 foot-pounds of torque. The 4-liter is mated to Ford’s new 5-speed adaptive shift automatic transmission, while the standard 3.0 gets the heavy-duty 5-speed manual tranny.
Styling wise, standard on the Edge are exterior treatment details like a power dome hood, powerful grille, complex reflector headlamps, wheel lip moldings, foglamps, monochromatic color treatment, front tow hooks, painted silver styled wheels, and pickup box rail protectors. Buyers can choose from either the Regular or Super Cab setup, and with either two- or four-wheel drive. If you opt to save weight and complexity and go with the 4x2, you don’t have to give up looks or stance, since both the 4x2 and 4x4 feature the same ride height and off-road look. Cook predicts that the 4x2/4x4 mix will be approximately 50/50 nationwide.
The standard tire/wheel package is 15-inch all around, but you can get the optional 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels and 245 OWL A/T tires, which would beef up the Edge’s overall appearance. Other options, and we’re told there will be many, include a bed extender like the one found on the new Sport Trac and a hard tonneau cover. For now, the Edge will be offered only in red, black, and blue, but, according to Cook, a fourth color may join the palette before the intro date this fall. Unique “Edge” graphics will mark the vehicle as special to provide distinction between it and the regular Ranger pickups.
The Edge also will benefit from the general changes make to the Ranger, which include revised front suspension tuning, improved ride quality, improvements in noise, vibration and harshness and an anti-lock system that becomes standard across the Ranger line for the 2001 model year.
Inside, minor upgrades for the Edge include washable flooring and a standard single-disc CD/AM/FM stereo. Again, a six-disc in-dash changer is available as an option.
Cook states that the Ranger Edge will be marketed aggressively toward the youth market and their lifestyles. Advertising will cover the Internet, publications, youth-targeted television, and a strong relationship with Vans Triple Crown Core Sports, a grassroots sports program that focuses on core events such as snowboarding, wakeboarding and surfing.
With products like the Ranger Edge, Focus, and new Escape, Ford has a pretty good grasp on the youth market, and will continue its strong sales growth to guarantee that the blue oval will be around well into the next century.