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The Unique Design Process Behind The 2021 Ford Bronco

The Unique Design Process Behind The 2021 Ford Bronco

It's always hard to talk about car design in purely objective terms, since it's a vehicle's only feature that can't be precisely measured, explained, or categorized. As always, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and even some ugly cars have a dedicated following of fans that think they're gorgeous.

However, even while avoiding discussing matters of taste, we can still examine a design based on its practicality, features, overall look, and its effect on car buyers. The 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport are perfect objects to explore, since their designs are far more complex than they look. So, let's go.

The Retro-Futurism

The first thing everybody notices when they see the 2021 Bronco is just how much it resembles the legendary first-generation Bronco (1966 to 1977). Although the modern and classic Bronco don't have anything in common in terms of dimensions or technology, the proportions, design elements, stance, and aesthetic feel are exactly the same.

We can safely say that this is one of the most successful examples of retro-futurism introduced in recent years. So far, most of retro-futuristic cars have been successful. If the design is well-executed and the original shape well remastered for the 21st century, buyers will flock to  dealerships even if the vehicle is mechanically mediocre at its best.

The Chrysler PT Cruiser is the best example. Dynamically, it was totally ordinary in every aspect, but its quirky retro design attracted millions.

Fortunately, the new Bronco can back up its looks with state-of-the-art technology, engine options and drivetrain and continue its predecessors' off-road legacy. Its contemporary looks combined with old-school proportions and stance suggest the same ruggedness and dependability of the classic Bronco, but in a modern package with upgraded capabilities and technology.

We feel that there was never any doubt in the Ford design department as to whether the new Bronco should be retro-futuristic looking. The image and iconic design of the first-generation model are so deeply rooted in the collective conscious that this was simply the only way to go. Just as with the Mustang, there is an almost "pre-defined" image of what it should be, and the design needs to follow that formula.

The Form and The Function

No matter how good-looking or how elegant it may be, the design means nothing if it's not functional. In the world of industrial design, the first and most important rule is "form follows function." Ford's designers knew that getting immersed in history while combining it with modern aesthetics would be a fun undertaking, but the end product would mean nothing if it wasn't entirely functional and usable.

This means that the new Bronco would need to be as usable, roomy, practical, and comfortable as its modern competitors.

But it's not all about the amount of interior or cargo space. The Bronco's design needed to incorporate dozens of details conceived to enhance its function, usability, and rugged charm. Some examples would be that bottle opener in the trunk, floor lamps that light up the ground when the trunk is open (Bronco Sport), or seats that can fold down to create a completely flat surface you can use for sleeping (Bronco 4-door). Successfully combining design ideas with practical features was difficult, but Ford's designers managed to pull it off.

However, the best example of the perfectly executed "form follows function" mantra are the removable doors and body panels -- the latter of which is a feature Ford is really proud of. Ford made the  Bronco's rear fenders, fender flares, front grille, front and rear bumper very easy to remove and replace. With only a few bolts, you can take these components off and replace them with Ford's own optional units or various aftermarket products. You don't need special tools or professional tools -- you can do it in your driveway with common tools and just a little elbow grease.

This is a handy feature -- not only in terms of customization, but also in the event of accident damage. Say you damaged your grille or rear quarter panel; you just get a replacement one and bolt it back on.

There are other aspects and advantages of such modularity. By allowing  customers to change the appearance, driving characteristics, and overall design features, Ford is cleverly prolonging the life cycle of their two and four-door Bronco models. Simply put, vehicles that can be modernized with a few add-ons can remain relevant much longer than models with a "fixed" design.

All of this suggests that the 2021 Bronco won't be just a "one-hit wonder" while giving a specific nod to the first-generation Bronco's legendary customization potential.

The Emphasis on People

The Ford Bronco always had a dedicated cult following among off-road fans, and it always was about more than being just another SUV or automotive workhorse (pun intended). While it might be assembled in Ford's factories, it's people -- Bronco fan's affection for the model and their experiences withit -- that made the Bronco the legend it is today. That's why the "people aspect" was essential when designing the new model.

Simply, Ford wanted to make the Bronco feel familiar, safe, and comfortable while making it resonate with anybody who had a family member who drove a Bronco, a high school memory of going to the beach in one or anyone who had always found themself admiring its rugged exterior and off-road ability.

People's experience was a very important factor during the design process, and the Bronco's features were built around real-life stories from people who worked at Ford. Even Ford's then-head designer, Murray Cullum, brought his 1976 Bronco to the design department for reference, so that his colleagues could share their own experiences and thoughts.

The Interior Design and Materials

The interior design is as important as the exterior, and Ford went the extra mile to match the new Bronco's outside ruggedness and practicality. Their designers knew that if you were to build a dedicated off-road truck, you would need an interior that matched it. This represents an entirely different approach from the rest of the SUV world, which tends to emphasize luxury, premium materials, and an upscale feel.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the Bronco has a stripped-out and rough interior without any features -- quite the contrary. It means it's built while having in mind that it will be exposed to sun, dust, mud, and snow, and it needs to be even more practical and durable. 

The whole point of owning a Bronco is to get it dirty, and its interior materials and design reflect that. Although you could order your Bronco with a leather interior, it's designed to be durable and rugged, not just luxurious. Also, there are several unique features, like a rubberized floor and drain holes for washing the interior after a hard drive off-road.

Ford's interior designers wanted to achieve the interior's familiar feel with the color choices and stitching, which resemble an old baseball glove. They tried to make you feel like you are sitting in something well-proven, yet familiar. They wanted to achieve a perfect synergy between tradition and a modern approach.

Digital Technologies and VR

It's no secret that all car companies use modern technologies and digital testing models when creating a new car. However, Ford went a step further and utilized VR simulators (virtual reality), which gave the Bronco team impressive flexibility in creating different solutions and quickly changing designs, not to mention allowing seeing the team to see their ongoing work in perspective while having a whole car laid out even before it became a clay model. That's why the overall design process took far less time than the norm, and the result turned out to be fantastic.

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