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Ranger Redux?

Ford Motor Co. may have some good news for fans of its long-running Ranger pickup, as well as workers at the company's Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The surge in fuel prices has slammed Ford's full-sized F-Series pickups, long the nation's best-selling vehicle line. But many buyers are simply downsizing to smaller models, like the Ranger, which has seen a reverse in its long, steady market slide.

As a result, sources indicate Ford may give both the Ranger and the Twin Cities plant a reprieve. The factory was due to close next year, and it was not clear if the automaker was going to transfer production of the small pickup elsewhere or simply let it fade into oblivion.

While company officials indicate there's been no firm decision made, the unexpected 2.3 percent increase in Ranger sales have them seriously considering the idea of continuing operations at Twin Cities until 2011. At that point, Ford is expected to introduce an all-new "world" pickup, which it plans to produce overseas.

The Ranger has been a truck that Ford loves to hate. In the youthful years of the Baby Boom, compact pickups were a popular - and often more affordable - alternative to conventional sedans and coupes. But as trucks went mainstream and fuel prices stabilized following the last oil crisis, buyers switched in increasing numbers to full-size models, such as the Ford F-150.

Many competitors, such as Toyota, with its Tacoma, have continued investing in upgrades, but Ford hadn't done much of anything with Ranger since 1998, and the basic technology underneath the pickup's skin dated back another decade.

Ironically, while Ranger may be getting a new lease on life, Ford is slashing production of the F-Series, and according to a report in the Detroit News, it may be ready to pull the plug on the SVT Raptor, a super-high-performance version of the F-150, which was aiming to compete with the largest, HEMI-powered version of the Dodge Ram. Along with Raptor, the paper reports Ford will scrub the 6.2-liter V-8 truck engine that was supposed to power it.
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