A broken Jeep hard top and an expensive repair bill taught Ford's engineers a lesson in customer-centered design.
Automakers are constantly learning from each other, observing and building off of their competitors' innovations, and gleaning the best, brightest new tech from their suppliers, in order to constantly improve their products. For the Ford Bronco, which had been off the market for more than twenty years before finally being unveiled as a radical new 2021 model, studying the Jeep Wrangler provided an invaluable starting point.
That's not to say that the Bronco is by any means a Wrangler copy, but speaking to Muscle Cars & Trucks recently, Ford Global Program Manager Jeff Seaman shared a couple of examples of how the Bronco corrected some of the Wrangler's perceived weaknesses, notably when it comes to the removable roof.
According to Seaman, removing the hard roof on a Wrangler was "the most awkward, awful experience of my entire life. I cracked one the first time I did it. It's awkward, it's horrible, and you need two strong people to take it off."
We know more than one Wrangler owner who might find that statement a tad hyperbolic, but at roughly 140 pounds, the Wrangler's top is hardly the easiest thing to remove. Seaman's top cracked, he says, because its design has a propensity for falling over.
"Picture you're a customer and... you take the top off with your big, beefy buddy because you can't do it yourself," he explained to MC&T. "You carefully set it on the garage floor, and go off and have a day of off-roading. But you come back and what you didn't realize is that it tipped over and you cracked it. And now you've got a $2,000 bill."
The 2021 Ford Bronco engineers one-upped Jeep with their roof design, Seaman suggests, by making it lighter and giving it an intermediate panel, both to keep the rear panel short and to do away with "that panel lever situation" on the Wrangler, which is what makes it prone to tipping.
But that's not the only aspect of the Bronco that was improved by analyzing and fixing some of the Wrangler's pain points. Seaman points out that the side mirrors are also mounted to the cowl, not the doors, so a customer can take the doors off without having to say goodbye to their mirrors. The rear quarter windows demonstrate similarly thoughtful design, removing quickly and easily alongside the hard top.
The end result is an off-road SUV that looks truly ready to mount a credible challenge to the Jeep Wrangler - at least on paper. We can hardly wait to drive it.