Ford Bronco hardtops delayed because supplier Webasto behind schedule
What’s it like to ride in a new Ford Bronco? We take a spin
A Free Press journalist gets his first ride in the 2021 Ford Bronco, a speedy, capable off-roader.
Detroit Free Press
Ford knows it has a serious Bronco problem.
No question, Bronco buyers with keys in hand are celebrating. They’ve plastered photos all over social media, almost taunting those who continue to wait in line.
The company says it is now shipping thousands, but a lot of Bronco customers remain frustrated. Many are angry they can’t get their SUV the way they ordered it. And they don’t want any more letters from the Dearborn automaker warning of yet another manufacturing or delivery delay.
Ford sent a customer letter recently warning of another holdup involving its removable hardtop roofs and making a plea to customers for patience. The latest wrinkle after a year of anticipation seems to be enough to push a few folks over the edge.
“With all the lies so far, do not count out hard tops not even being ready for mass production till mid to end of ’22. Sit and wait for the next generic and disappointing Friday email,” posted a man named Doug Dybzinski on the Bronco6x Facebook page on June 26.
The company revealed its all-new Bronco one year ago and more than 190,000 reservations have poured in for a vehicle that last was built from 1965 until 1996.
So far,125,000 preorders have been converted to official orders with waiting customers. Ford cautioned that the company was so overwhelmed initially that some orders wouldn’t be filled until calendar year 2022, which might end up being a 2023 model year.
Michael Erwin, an engineer from Milwaukee, whose resume includes patents in product process and design, posted on June 27, “The translation of this condescending sorry excuse for customer care is, ‘Huh?’ “
Prices for the 2021 Bronco start at $28,500 for a two-door model. The base four-door starts at $33,200. It competes primarily with the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner, with the removable tops Jeep owners love to flaunt.
A series of headaches have delayed the build, ranging from the COVID-I9 pandemic shutdowns in every part of the world where the company works, to a shortage of semiconductor chips needed to run electrical elements of the vehicle.
But lack of access to much-needed hardtops, a crisis created by Ford’s own supplier, is perhaps the most significant hurdle now.
Internal meetings at Ford illustrate the high-priority status of the concern, attempts to fast-track solutions and doing everything imaginable to move things forward, a source not authorized to discuss internal planning told the Free Press. To see also : Huge Demand of Roofing Products Market by 2027.
Now, Ford has decided a path to getting Broncos to customers faster requires focusing on producing the most popular roof only. Just get it done. This reduces customer choices, which of course is a favorite activity of these kinds of buyers, personalization.
But the supplier cannot build as many hardtops as customers want and Ford needs.
The German supplier — Webasto — is struggling.
It opened a factory at Schoolcraft and Haggerty Road in Plymouth in 2019 to fanfare. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. approved a $2.7 million performance-based grant to Webasto Roof Systems Inc., a subsidiary of the Webasto Group — a sunroof, convertible top and heating systems manufacturer.
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This Michigan site was meant to support Ford on this Bronco project. Webasto pitched the idea of designing and building the tops, so the inability to get the job done is maddening but everyone is working together to get more roofs built, said a source who has attended internal meetings at Ford.
Ford spokesman Said Deep confirmed Wednesday, “We are working with Webasto to increase roof production, which could include a second facility in metro Detroit.”
But adding capacity at another plant takes time, quite possibly with significant gains not seen until early 2022.
Birgit Felske, a spokeswoman for Webasto, declined to respond to questions submitted by the Free Press. What’s causing the roof delay? How much is Ford helping Webasto to remedy the situation? What would Webasto say to angry Bronco customers?
Thank you for understanding
“We kindly ask for your understanding that due to contractual reasons we will not comment on further matters,” she told the Free Press. On the same subject : Businesses Partner To Recognize SPHS Senior Athletes. “If you have further questions, please contact the Ford communication department directly.”
When asked about the potential site expansion, Felske said on Tuesday, “Thank you so much for your understanding that we will not comment on your request at the moment.”
Previously, the top-tier auto supplier said it planned to invest nearly $48 million in the new building site near Schoolcraft and Haggerty, creating 441 jobs after winning contracts from Ford and then-Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, according to news reports in 2019.
But on July 1, Ford wrote in its customer fact sheet posted on the Bronco6x Facebook site, which is monitored by top-level Ford employees, “We are working as fast as we can to try and get through the hardtop roof Bronco bottleneck.”
Soft-tops vs. Hardtops
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“We originally intended to build roughly 80% hardtops and 20% soft-tops. The ratio is now closer to 60% hardtops and 40% soft-tops. Our roof supplier is doing this by focusing all efforts on producing as many molded in color hardtops as possible,” the Ford memo said. “Our goal is to build as many customer Broncos at the highest quality this year.”
Few Bronco buyers may realize the gravity of the situation or understand the delay is actually intended to protect their investment or even appreciate that Ford faces the possibility of losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
“As a supplier, you have to be prepared to handle the volume proposed by your customer, the vehicle manufacturer. … Customer interest to the number of people on wait lists,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions based in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. “Not having the capacity to support Ford’s plans is a dramatic misstep by the supplier.”
Jeoff Burris, founder of Plymouth-based Advanced Purchasing Dynamics, a supply chain consultant to auto suppliers primarily in North America, drives by Webasto and said he notices the parking lot is so full that cars are parked on the grass.
“That indicates a supplier is in trouble,” he said, noting that all hands on deck and a jammed facility is often a red flag.
“When I drove by, I said, ‘That’s where they’re making the Bronco. They have a lot of manpower trying to resolve the issues.’ To me, it looks like a team effort,” Burris said.
He added, “There are almost always timing issues with suppliers in new vehicle programs. However, Ford has to be more than frustrated with this supplier given the fact that they delayed the vehicle launch to provide more time and it still was not enough.”
Wuhan and northern Italy
Webasto can’t build as many carbonized gray hardtops, known internally as molded in-color hardtops, as the company promised Ford, said a source with direct knowledge of the situation but not authorized to discuss it publicly.
“They are behind because they couldn’t continue the development on the tools and testing because of all of the places they had development going on. COVID hit them really hard. The tools were hit by COVID. This was in Wuhan (China) and northern Italy, where there was a lot of development taking place.”
To get what Ford needed, Webasto needed to focus on molded color, which is what’s happening now. Producing more roof options for customers would slow Webasto down and result in fewer roofs for Ford.
“They are struggling to meet the molded in-color to what they promised,” the source said. These are not painted roofs, but roofs built with colored material.
Initially, Ford planned to launch the two-door and four-door Bronco in spring 2021. But Ford delayed the plan because the pandemic disrupted the supply chain. So sales and delivery was moved to summer 2021. Vehicles started rolling off the line in June at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.
Analysts say they wonder if it’s fair to “pound Ford” or if the situation is part of the new reality of life these days.
“Unfortunately, for the past 16 months, we have become used to expecting the unexpected,” Burris said.
Meanwhile, Webasto’s website touts its expertise in roof design and manufacturing with its November 2020 news about a Corvette partnership. It says its ability to design and build innovative roofs contributes to successful product launches.
“Webasto, the global market leader for roof systems, today announces its collaboration with Chevrolet on the groundbreaking 2020 Corvette Stingray … retractable hardtop convertible. … Developed by Webasto, the innovative roof system is assembled in Plymouth, Michigan,” the website says. “As a long-term, reliable supplier to the General Motors family of vehicle brands, developing the high-volume retractable hardtop in collaboration with the Chevrolet team resulted in an industry breakthrough.”
The Free Press asked Webasto, a multibillion dollar supplier, if it had problems making the Corvette tops. Webasto declined to provide an answer. GM spokesman David Barnas told the Free Press on Friday he was unaware of any issues.
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But Webasto didn’t finish its quality testing in time for Ford, sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to the Free Press. In addition to the other challenges, Webasto is struggling to find workers — and Ford is trying to help with that situation, too.
“We have agreed to provide Webasto operational support and they have welcomed it,” Deep confirmed. “We are both working to take care of our Bronco customers and ensure a successful launch.”
Ford is actually sending “many” salaried and hourly workers into the plant, said the source familiar with the situation. .
Analyst Jon Gabrielsen cannot understand how the situation got to this level.
“The optics are horrendous,” he said. “And the distance things are getting pushed out are beyond ridiculous at this point. Automakers typically overstate their likely demand by one-third to two-thirds, which is all the more reason a supplier should never come up short on capacity.”
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More: The 2021 Bronco two door color choices
The two-door Bronco comes with a removable, molded-in-color hardtop. There is an optional hardtop that is also removable that is available in high-gloss paint to match the color of vehicle. On the four-door model, there are the same roofs plus a soft-top, which is like a Mustang convertible.
According to a letter posted on Bronco social media sites, confirmed to the Free Press by Ford for its accuracy, buyers who want an optional painted modular hardtop roof will need to wait as long as the 2023 model year for certain selections. Ford pushed back every modular hardtop option, including black-painted hardtops, contrasting white hardtops and dual top hardtops.
Buyers, for now, have just two choices: Get a soft-top or choose a carbonized gray molded-in-color hardtop. Ford would waive the $495 cost of a kit that allows owners to switch from a soft-top to a hardtop, which would need to be purchased later. Customers cannot get a soft-top on a two-door Bronco, just a four-door.
Anyone wanting to switch to a soft-top prep kit needs to take action by July 16 to be eligible for selection for September production, the customer memo said.
Meanwhile, Burris said his wife, Cheryl — who drives a 2015 Jeep Cherokee now — doesn’t care about the Bronco delay and pretty much will wait until the end of time to get the Bronco. “She personally will jump in line to take the soft-top.”
The delays have evoked frustration online.
“Okay. Someone explain this to me like I’m 5,” Anna MGall posted June 26 on the Bronco6x public Facebook page, after receiving a detailed Bronco Order Holder Update from Ford about the roof situation.
Doug Dybzinski replied on June 26, “If you have a hardtop on order you’re not getting your Bronco. Dealers will be receiving soft-top stock for the lot to sell to public. Your neighbor could own a Bronco before you do and you have had a deposit down for what seems like forever.”
Ty Robinson posted the same day, “You know on Seinfeld where the soup nazi says no soup for you? This is Ford saying no bronco for you!”
Jenny Denton-Lund posted on June 26, “I’m gonna try to wait out the MIC (molded in color) top but I’m superrrrr bitter about dealers receiving soft-top stock to sell to the public and them getting theirs before I reserved one almost a year ago.”
‘Like you, we’re frustrated …’
While Ford touted the start of Bronco deliveries in its Bronco buyer letter, the company cautioned, “This means a longer wait for those who ordered a molded in color hardtop. … Like you, we’re frustrated by these delays.”
Still, the company is committed to navigating the challenges, Deep said.
“We’re working as fast as we can,” he said. “We want to make everybody happy.”
There are some other “constraints,” Deep said, but hardtops are the biggest.
Regardless of the memos, nothing will dampen enthusiasm for Bronco, Fiorani said.
“There’s so much demand for this vehicle that the buyer will take whatever they can get.”
Overjoyed when it arrives
Damarius Halty, 29, a general contractor from Mount Clemens, purchased his Bronco on June 29 and said he hasn’t much left the vehicle. He still has his 1996 Bronco that’s “pretty greedy at the pump” but filled with memories of his father.
The new Bronco offered what Halty wanted in an off-road vehicle plus the gas mileage is “great,” he said. “I’ll keep my old one too, though, because it’s special to me and sentimental due to my dad. He helped me with all the different repairs that surprisingly made me grow closer to it.”
Halty picked up his soft-top charcoal gray Bronco from Russ Milne Ford in Macomb after waiting a year, with no changes to his original order. It is the Bronco Big Bend Package at a cost of about $47,000, including delivery fees.
“The day of the Bronco reveal, when me and my brother were trying to reserve one, my brother is 17, got on the phone and he used his quick fingers and basically the site crashed and kept crashing. … We finally got in and — I’m driving it now, I love it.”
At 10:20 p.m. on a recent Thursday night, Halty didn’t want to get out of his new Bronco.
“This flooding and stuff has basically allowed me to see what this thing can do,” he said. “’I’ve definitely been patient through the supplier shortage, chip shortage, setbacks with a lot of things.”
He paused to illustrate the experience.
“My dad used to always tell me about Philly cheesesteaks. And we finally took the long, long drive from Mount Clemens to Philadelphia. It was a family trip, nine hours. And that was worth the wait. This truck was definitely worth the wait. I love the way it looks, the way it drives, the way it sounds.”
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