To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its top secret proving grounds in Australia, Ford recently invited a group of automotive journalists to take a peek behind the curtain. While cameras were not allowed, what one of them saw there suggests that the wishes of some American midsize pickup fans could soon be granted.
News Corp Australia’s Joshua Dowling tells Fox News that he spotted an American market version of the Chevrolet Colorado doing laps of the high speed oval test track, while a US-spec Toyota Tacoma sat in a parking lot nearby. Their presence there is noteworthy because the current Ford Ranger was engineered in Australia and is regularly developed at the same facility.
That would be the Ford Ranger that’s not sold in the United States…yet.
When Ford discontinued the Ranger here after the 2011 model year, it introduced an all-new version for foreign markets that wasn’t designed to meet US safety and emissions standards. The automaker opted instead to fill this gap in its American lineup with a combination of the small Transit Connect van and fuel efficient aluminum-bodied F-150 full-size pickups.
General Motors followed suit in 2012, abandoning the midsize segment in its home market just as was unveiling an all-new Colorado for the rest of the world. But it reversed course in 2015 by launching a re-engineered version of that new Colorado, along with its GMC Canyon twin, in the US to great success. Selling over 100,000 of the pair through November, GM has leaped into second place in the segment behind -- you guessed it – the Toyota Tacoma, which has been refreshed for 2016.
With the market for midsize pickups heating up again, rumors of a Ranger revival in the US gained momentum after the recently ratified Ford-UAW contract revealed that it will replace Ford Focus and C-Max compact car production at the company’s Michigan Assembly plant with two new vehicles starting in 2018.
Although they have yet to be disclosed by Ford, several reports out of Detroit have pegged those vehicles to be the Ranger, which is due for an update at that time, followed by a new Bronco 2020. The latter is fitting as the factory was the SUV's home for its original 30-year run, which ended in 1996.
Ford has not yet confirmed its plans for Michigan Assembly, or any intention to build and sell the Ranger in the USA, so exactly why it shipped the Colorado and Tacoma to Oz officially remains a mystery, even if the secret that they're there is now out.
(That tends to happen when you don't keep the curtain closed.)
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.