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Ford starts shipping new Bronco, filling 125K orders

The Bronco has finally been released into the wild.

“The Broncos are out of the gates, out of the corral,” Erik Williams, Ford plant manager at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, told a handful of reporters on Monday during a tour.

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Take a step back in time: This bestselling SUV was last built in 1996, the year that the Fox News Channel debuted, “Independence Day” dominated the box office and “Macarena” topped the music charts.

“There’s a lot that has to go right every minute in order to assemble a vehicle,” Williams said, having worked for the automaker for 24 years. “I’m still amazed at the process.”

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Factory sounds filled the enormous room, and Williams spoke loudly as Cyber Orange and Shadow Black Bronco SUVs rolled off the production line. Ford Ranger trucks, built in the same plant, are interspersed between the Bronco SUVs on the line.

No one at Ford would say how many Broncos would be shipped this week or this month.

“A lot,” Williams said. “I can’t give a ballpark. They’re coming.”

The first shipment was scheduled to leave the factory Monday, confirmed Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager.

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Shipments will be arriving at Ford dealers in coming days — already 125,000 orders have been placed, said Mark Grueber, Ford consumer marketing manager.

“Customers will be receiving them any day now,” he said. “It’s been a long time, almost 25 years to the day, that the last Bronco rolled off the line here. Customers have been counting the days. I think it’s going to be a fantastic product. It’ll be worth the wait.”

Over the years, Grueber has been one of the most vocal advocates for bringing back the Bronco, which had earned a cult following. Ford CEO Jim Farley predicted a year ago — before he assumed the top job — that Ford planned to steal loyal Jeep Wrangler fans with the hot new product.

Already, two-thirds of Ford Bronco Sport customers have migrated to Ford from other automakers. The Bronco Sport is the smaller version that debuted late last year.

“We know we’re getting a very new and different customer,” Grueber said.

Bronco saw production delays not just from COVID-19 challenges and supply chain disruption of parts, but an issue with tops for its vehicles.

“We’re making great progress with our roof partners and working with them on a daily basis,” Grueber said.

Broncos are being built with soft and hard top roofs now, he confirmed.

This milestone is really, really big for just about everybody.

Mario Williams, a final quality control inspector for the Bronco, has been at Ford for 27 years and spoke with a smile on Monday as he compared the Bronco release to having a baby.

“All our plans and the aspiration for this vehicle have come to life,” he said, noting the ’66 Bronco came out the year before he was born.

Workers said semiconductor chip supplies are flowing into the factory despite industry shortages.

“They’re making it happen. I don’t know how. It’s magic,” Williams said.

He is unsure whether the Bronco will fit into his garage but hopes it will, because he is an outdoorsman who loves to camp and mountain bike and go up north with his wife.

Factory workers say the public pressure and industry scrutiny have workers intensely focused and a bit stressed and anxious about making sure every single thing goes right because there’s no room for error.

“We take pride in what we do,” said Michele Conrad, a Bronco inspector who has worked at Ford for 25 years. She had to explain to an enthusiastic neighbor that, no, factory workers cannot take pictures inside the plant and share them.

David Torosian, plant engineering manager, postponed retirement after 34 years at Ford to ride through the Bronco launch.

“It was a no-brainer,” he told the Free Press. “We’re proud of the work we do, and the Bronco is an iconic vehicle.”

Torosian, an electrical engineer, oversees some 500 skilled trades — pipe fitters, electricians, millwrights, welders, carpenters and toolmakers.

“The excitement here — you can feel the vibes on the floor,” he said. He plans to spend more time at home in Grosse Ile in 2022, “once everything at the plant gets situated.”

Ford added 2,700 jobs at Michigan Assembly and saw $750 million in improvements to build the all-new two-door and first-ever four-door Broncos.

Tiffany Eastman, team leader in quality with about 12 years at Michigan Assembly, oversees a team that assembles the Bronco dashboard. And everyone is on high alert.

“They want the turnout for this Bronco to be perfect,” she told the Free Press.

Her mother, Tamara Eastman, a quality auditor in stamping, said, “There’s so much buildup. I do inspections for the exterior surfaces of the car for the hood, swing gate of the Bronco and the rear doors. I make sure the car looks pristine, so you don’t see defects or imperfections.”

So many folks confuse the Bronco Sport, which is built in Mexico, with the bigger classic Bronco, she said. “The one we’re making is going to be a beast — it’s bigger, it’s better, it’s more aggressive.”

This is a second life for Tamara Eastman after 21 years at multiple Ford factory sites. She came to the automaker from the University of Michigan in the human resources department doing medical transcription for eight years.

“It was a bit of a culture shock but it’s one of the best jobs I could say I could have,” she told the Free Press. “I was a single mom with two kids. I had maxed out what I was going to make at the University of Michigan. And my uncle called, who became a plant chairman, and said, ‘We’re hiring.’ I had passed up the opportunity to go in 1989 and so in 2000 when he called again, I thought, well, I need to make changes.”

Even industry analysts feel the Bronco pressure.

“My boss has one on order,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions based in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

While Ford declined to provide specifics on the production schedule, Fiorani said his sources have indicated that Ford is hoping to build about 80,000 Ford Bronco SUVs in 2021 and about 160,000 in 2022.

“When the Wrangler was selling two-door vehicles, Jeep sold 80,000 a year,” Fiorani said. “When they started doing four-door Wranglers, it took off. Now they’re building over 250,000 a year. That’s the market Bronco is going for.”

©2021 www.freep.com. Visit at freep.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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