Now that the Ford Bronco is on its way to dealerships, Ford has a new problem. In order to stay competitive with the crosstown rival — Jeep — the company will need to move on new powertrains. Jeep has the absolutely excellent Wrangler 4xe, so it’d make sense Ford is working on a hybrid.
As you can see in these spy shots, there are orange cables wrapped around the frame on the underside of the vehicle. Orange wire looms often indicate high power transfer conduit that is often required for hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Our spy photographers also indicate that they caught this vehicle on its way to the Ford Test Laboratory, which is where Ford works on its EPA testing for new powertrain setups.
Additionally, it appears Ford is testing some off-road accessories, as it looks like it’s sporting a snorkel and the roof is still heavily camouflaged.
While we’re convinced it is an electrified powertrain, we actually think it might be a plug-in hybrid. Normal gasoline-powered Broncos have their fuel filler caps on the driver’s side of the vehicle. As you can see, there is a cutout on the passenger side where a fuel filler door would be. That could be concealing the charge port for the plug.
The updated Ford Bronco is the company’s answer to the off-road dominance of the Jeep Wrangler. Since the updated JL version of the Wrangler came out, Wrangler sales have increased. Recently, the PHEV 4xe version even outsold every other PHEV in the country. People want the ability to off-road, even if they never actually do it.
Jeep has also expanding the available engines dramatically. In addition to a regular V6, there’s a turbocharged 4-cylinder. There’s a mild hybrid V6. There’s a Diesel engine. There’s a plug-in hybrid. The company is even prototyping a full electric Wrangler.
It’s understandable that Ford wouldn’t launch the Bronco, which has an independent front suspension compared to Wrangler’s solid axle, without any advanced engines. Getting a new car out the door can be difficult during the best of times, so it’s important to get the experience right.
But now that production is underway, journalists have driven the new Bronco, and they are arriving at dealerships, it’s time to look ahead at the future of what the Bronco can offer.
To stay competitive Ford will have to offer an electrified powertrain. A regular hybrid could make sense in this application, but spending the money now on a PHEV helps Ford offset future development costs, and provide a test bed for rear-drive PHEV powertrains that ultimately end up in other Ford and Lincoln vehicles.
What we can say is we are big fans of the Wrangler PHEV. While it didn’t deliver the on-the-road mileage we had hoped for, still getting 21 miles of electric only driving is great. When you add in how capable and confidence-inspiring off-roading is with an electric powertrain, we’re looking forward to driving Ford’s counter to that.
How soon will we see a production version of this vehicle? Since these are the first real spy shots it’s probably not going to be Chicago or New York, but electrification is big in California and the LA Auto Show in November could be the perfect coming out opportunity for the electrified Ford Bronco.