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How the Ford Bronco slowly rolled down the highway into American iconography

Ford's rollout of the new Bronco was one of the marquee online events of the summer. Millions of people tuned in for the online reveal, or at least caught some part of the vast advertising blitz as the grand dame of SUVs was reborn for a new generation of consumers. Ford also commissioned a new podcast, titled Bring Back Bronco: The Untold Story, to share the history of the iconic car.  The mind behind the series is journalist and former NPR reporter Sonari Glinton. 

Born in Chicago, Glinton has strong ties to the auto industry. He is the third-generation in his family to have a career connected to the automotive industry. 

“That is not unusual if you're a Black person in the middle class,” Glinton said. “These companies touch African Americans, and they touch America, in a way that we don't always acknowledge.” 

Despite the Bronco’s popularity as an all-terrain vehicle, Ford stopped manufacturing it in 1996. Bring Back Bronco spends some time solving the mystery of why the car was discontinued. Glinton said the decision represented a shift in Ford’s priorities.

“Why the Bronco went away, I think, is it wasn't a shiny object anymore. And that is often what the corporate chieftains do, right? And I think then in the last 20 years or so, the F150 [had] done so well, Ford was just sort of like, 'Well since we make over 90% of our profits on the F-Series Truck, why should we do anything else?'” Glinton said.

Now, as trends often do, the Bronco has circled back into the mainstream. Glinton said Ford likely resumed making the car because over the past decade there has been an influx of young buyers purchasing used Broncos for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He added that the pandemic may have contributed to this renaissance as well, as rougher-terrain activities such as off-roading and camping have become popular in the era of social distancing. 

“It says something about the nature of the industry that it took a quarter of a century of dedicated Ford designers, marketers, all those people to convince the folks at top that this is, was, something viable,” Glinton said. “And I think that's almost more of a story to me, which is the skunkworks that existed to reintroduce this vehicle and what an uphill battle you have to just come up with a decent idea in a gigantic company like Ford or General Motors or Chrysler."

Glinton said in the past, the Bronco has been marketed as the vehicle that can do everything, from taking the kids to soccer practice to towing a boat. Glinton says this “aspirational” aspect of the Bronco is reflective of American culture. 

“You know it's a very important part of the American spirit, which is forging a new path, making something new, going offroad, creating your own rules, and I think that's a part of what the Bronco symbolizes," Glinton said.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lia Baldori.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 9 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.