A Closer Look at the Issues That Prompted the Creation of Ford’s Bronco Satisfaction Fund
Buyers of the 2021 Ford Bronco have been through a lot. I’m sure we can agree on that. There’s been a veritable tidal wave of enthusiasm focused on the new Bronco pretty much ever since Ford first announced its return during the 2017 North American Auto Show and, while consistently glowing reviews for the Bronco had to have helped make those buyers feel pretty darned good about their purchases, taking a financial chance on a new release undeniably required a leap of faith.
At this point, some of them have no doubt experienced at least a little dampening of their enthusiasm. Most of the delays have been Covid-related and while at face value Bronco buyers would almost certainly understand what it takes to build a car from scratch and just how tenuous a supply chain can be, there are several pieces to this overall puzzle. We all have our limits. Ford recently recognized this and recently set up a special Bronco “satisfaction fund” and has made this resource available to its dealers in order for to help them “manage the wait for Bronco customers with confirmed orders.”
There's Margin to Spare on New Broncos, But Even So. . .
The new Bronco represents a resounding success for Ford and, because the high demand for the vehicle means that no manufacturer or dealer incentives will be required anytime soon to keep Broncos moving from assembly line to their buyers’ garages — once production finally does get back under way, of course — this equates to very healthy margins on all Broncos sold.
Nonetheless, no publicly traded company willingly parts with potential profits without a good reason and, in the current state of affairs surrounding Bronco production, Ford has at least several.
Nearly everyone has felt the consequences of the pandemic in some form and, had Bronco production simply resumed after a reasonable period of time to adjust for what have been global complications, the delay wouldn’t have left much of a mark. But when you factor in some of the unexpected fallout, along with the amount of time that has now elapsed to cool what was once unobstructed enthusiasm for the new Bronco, the equation changes.
Those Problematic Removable Tops Were a Big Factor
Whether you argue that fit and finish issues on subbed out components like the Bronco’s removable plastic top, which have caused most of the problems, are the ultimate responsibility of the contractor — in this case, Germany-based Webasto, with whom Ford has severed contractual ties as far as the Bronco is concerned — or Ford itself, only matters a little. Regardless of where the finger points, delays are a nuisance in general and become exponentially more so when one delay is stacked upon another.
On their own, late arriving plastic tops that have served to delay production would likely be met only with annoyance — although you can’t very well drive a Vin # or take a purchase contract off-roading, that discontent would stop short of actual buyer’s remorse. But, those tales of the same tops actually bending, and even delaminating under pressure no doubt have served to make at least some buyers question the workmanship that went into their once eagerly anticipated vehicles.
This was likely the tipping point in Ford’s decision to open its purse strings. In a letter to its dealerships, the manufacturer elaborated on its plans to allocate up to $1,000 per customer to stem the growing tide of dissatisfaction, while advising them to “create an action plan for how best to use the funds to help engage Bronco customers and help manage their wait.”
Suggested Satisfaction Tactics Vary
The letter to dealerships included some suggestions as to what might constitute “best use” of the money. Most of these suggestions were thoroughly practical, including providing payment assistance for an interim vehicle purchase or lease, helping with rental vehicle coverage, offering a discount toward a Ford Protect Extended Warranty or Maintenance plan, or covering the vehicle’s next scheduled maintenance. Okay, that last one does seem a little underwhelming.
Also included was the suggestion that dealerships buy a bottle of the customer’s favorite bourbon or other spirit to thank them for their loyalty and patience.” (The degree to which that one might work would, of course, vary tremendously on the customer and brand name of the spirit involved.)
The financial resource from Ford that makes this possible became accessible about two weeks ago (September 1st) and should remain available into June of next year. The fact that the program is expected to remain in place for so many months underscores the likelihood that Ford will be playing “production catchup” for quite some time.
It’s also worth noting that Ford’s appeasement effort is only applicable on reservations that have already been turned into orders, a stipulation that’s likely intended to make sure that these placation efforts go to bona fide would-be customers, and not just friends of the dealerships.
Some of What Got Things to This Point
A long and winding road led to this situation. For starters, even in the best of production environments —read non-pandemic — Ford would have almost certainly had its challenges keeping up with the unexpectedly outsized number of orders it has received for the new Bronco. But the pandemic and its fallout no doubt exacerbated things and has led to several instances of backpedaling by the manufacturer.
When, in May, Ford notified its customers of yet another delay that was anticipated to last about 2 weeks, it came on the heels of a previous notification and stoppage that was substantially longer, so it was likely viewed by would be Bronco owners as annoying but not all that big a deal.
About two months later, Ford raised the warning flag again, cautioning confirmed order holders that some of their vehicles wouldn’t roll into their garages until 2022 and would be categorized as 2023 models. The following month, Ford had no choice but to commit to replacing the hardtops already in place on produced 2021 Broncos when the Detroit Free Press, as well as some owners, detailed those tops’ tendency to warp — and even delaminate — when exposed to a substantial amount of water and humidity. Instances of fitment issues were also part of the mix.
This commitment, though unavoidable and thoroughly warranted, no doubt made things pretty tough on Ford, forcing the manufacturer to keep two very big plates spinning at the same time, production-wise. So, in order to mitigate the challenge and close the gap between orders and actual produced Broncos, at the end of August, Ford opted to stop any further online reservations. When the Detroit Free Press, a staunch advocate of both the Bronco and Bronco Sport, ran another story about this decision, Ford promptly responded with its plans to launch its Customer Satisfaction Fund, likely fearing that the perception of production delays becoming so serious as to thwart further reservations would cause grumbling among future owners who had already made their commitments to purchase.