Say good-bye to the Ford Ranger. The last of Ford's small pickups rolls off the assembly line sometime next week. When it does, Ford's Twin Cities plant in St. Paul, Minn., will close, taking some 800 jobs with it.
What happened to the mid-sized Ranger?
Auto industry analysts say that over the last few years, Ford put more of its money into the full-sized F-150, offering more and bigger rebates and upgrading the bigger truck's styling and fuel economy.
Basically, we're told, Ford did such a good job with the F-150 that it put the Ranger out of business, as truck buyers discovered they could get a full-sized for about the same price as the little Ranger.
Of course, it didn't help that the Ranger shared many of the problems of its bigger sibling. Like the F-150, the Ranger had a nasty habit of catching fire.
"I bought a 2001 Ford F-150," said Doug of Royal Palm Beach, Fla. "On July 28, 2011, I parked it at the golf course. On the 9th hole tee box, a ranger came up and asked if I owned a F-150. I said yes. He said 'It's on fire.' It had been parked under a tree for nearly 2 hours. The fire department Captain said it was an engine fire that started on the driver's side."
Some owners, like Carlos of El Sobrante, Calif., complained about erratic handling.
"Truck hydroplaned at around 25 mph from the back. This caused it to spin, losing control, and go off the freeway, rolling sideways down a hill next to the freeway. The truck is a loss. The driver suffered injuries," Carlos told ConsumerAffairs.com. "There is something very wrong about this truck model. It demonstrated instability at 20-25 mph on the curves, and on one occasion, after starting it uphill, even on dry road."
The last Ranger reportedly will go to Orkin, the pest control company, whose fleet includes many Rangers. Orkin is probably a typical small-pickup user. It doesn't haul big loads and needs the maneuverability and ease of operation offered by a smaller truck.
Besides being good light-duty work trucks, Rangers were also popular with consumers who used them to commute to work as well as for weekend handyman and lawn-care chores and for the occasional hunting or fishing trip. Those who needed a heavy-duty work truck opted for the F-150 or similar models from Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota.
The energy crisis of the late 1970s built demand for lighter, smaller trucks that didn't guzzle as much gas and the Ranger at one time commanded a healthy share of the market but sales fell off rapidly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, prompting Ford to close its Edison, N.J., plant in 2004.
Today, the St. Paul plant is producing only 500 or so Rangers per day and by the end of the year, the plant's 86-year run will be over. It's an economic blow to those who worked there and also to Minnesota, which has lost 100,000 of its 400,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years.
No doubt there's a market for baristas and Walmart greeters, but for semi-skilled workers in the Twin Cities, the Ford plant closing does little to brighten spirits as 2012 dawns.
Say good-bye to the Ford Ranger. The last of Ford's small pickups rolls off the assembly line sometime next week. When it does, Ford's Twin Cit...