Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is asking Ford CEO Alan Mulally to reconsider the company's decision to close the plant that builds the Ford Ranger in St. Paul, Minn., because the truck has gained sales in 2008. Production of the compact pickup is scheduled to end by the fall of 2009.
"Sales of the Ford Ranger are proving that folks want fuel-efficient vehicles," Coleman said in a press release that appeared on his website. "The Ranger is one of the most cost-effective vehicles in its class, and it is my hope that Ford will re-examine the potential of this plant in light of increased demand."
Ford Ranger pricing starts at under $15,000. Rangers equipped with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine are rated at 21/26 mpg city/highway.
Record-high fuel prices that are driving truck buyers from full-size pickups into smaller vehicles is one possible explanation for the Ranger's jump in sales, but since February, Ford has also sweetened cash incentives by $1,000 for the Ranger in markets where it has traditionally sold in high volumes.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas says there are only about 11,000 Rangers available nationally, with an average 40-day supply at Ford dealers. That's compared to the more-than-100-day supply Pipas said F-Series pickups are seeing these days.
Could Ford keep the Ranger plant open longer to take advantage of the market shift? Angie Kozleski, a Ford manufacturing representative, would only say that the company is "aggressively trying to align supply with demand for all Ford vehicles."
Keeping the Ranger going past 2009 would likely be a financial and engineering challenge. Ford has planned to end production of the Ranger for several years, while other small-truck manufacturers have continued to invest in their products. That includes making them compliant with upcoming federal regulations that will require stronger rollover protection and electronic stability control for most new cars and trucks by 2010. Extending the Ranger's retirement date could mean the truck would need these revisions, and it's not worth Ford’s time or money to invest in a truck as old as the Ranger rather than concentrate on new small trucks, like the F-100, that Ford is reportedly considering building.