U.S.-based axle manufacturer Dana Inc. has revealed it will build axles for Ford’s forthcoming Bronco SUV and Ranger mid-size pickup, all but confirming the two models will ride on solid front and rear axles.

A new Bronco with solid axles front and rear would make the truck a direct competitor to the Jeep Wrangler, the undisputed champ of today’s four-wheeler segment, and the only mainstream vehicle available today with a solid front axle.

Dana’s revelation, as reported by Automotive News, was a notable follow-up to Ford’s Detroit auto show announcement it will bring the two nameplates back by the end of this decade. Ranger would give the automaker a mid-size truck to compete in a fast-growing segment currently dominated by the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. And Bronco would mark Ford’s return to the off-road vehicle market, in which it hasn’t had a serious player since it discontinued the Bronco line after 1996.

Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford’s North and South American operations, called the forthcoming Bronco a “no-compromise four-by-four utility,” a statement that, taken at its word, reinforces the solid-axle notion.

Off-road enthusiasts prefer solid axles to independent suspension because they’re easier to modify for maximum suspension articulation over challenging terrain. The irony here is Dana makes the axles that Jeep bolts into the Wrangler, and the Bronco’s components could well be manufactured in the same Toledo, Ohio plant that turns out the Jeep parts.

Jeep is expected to launch an all-new Wrangler for the 2018 model year whose design promises improved fuel economy, but it is expected to keep its solid axle suspension front and rear.

Jeep has faced little direct competition in the 4×4 SUV segment since the Bronco’s disappearance: the Toyota FJ Cruiser, built from 2010 through 2014, was aimed at Jeep’s audience, but never gained traction to steal buyers in significant numbers. Notably, while the FJ had a solid rear axle, it had an independent front suspension.

While a solid-front-axle Bronco seems a strong possibility, the same arrangement is less of a sure thing on the Ranger, where an independent front suspension would provide the smoother on-road ride it would need to properly compete with the Tacoma and GM’s mid-size twins. However, with Jeep reportedly planning a Wrangler-based pickup to go on sale next year, a Ranger with two solid axles might not be a bad plan.

Either way, Dana will be in the picture: the company also builds axles and driveline components for vehicles with independent suspension systems.

(Via Automotive News)