Ford's financial woes have delayed progress on an all-new Ranger pickup, despite the upcoming threat of all-new Chevrolet and GMC small trucks. So what can the company do to continue to keep Ranger sales strong?

Smart marketing. Such as the test truck, the Ranger Tremor Plus. It's essentially the same old Ranger, but add P235/70R-16 tires and alloy wheels, white-faced gauges and a 485-watt Pioneer Audiophile stereo system that can leave you bleeding from the brain, and you have something Ford dealers can sell as new.

In fact, Ford seems to think these special sound systems have a life beyond the Ranger. You can get a "Mach 1000" sound system in the Mustang, and you can get an Audiophile package on the Focus.

The Tremor comes only with a 154-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, the medium-sized powerplant for Rangers, sized between the 143-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder, and the 207-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, and only with the five-speed automatic transmission.

The transmission is a very good one and helps maximize the engine's available power. The Ranger's four-cylinder is reasonably strong for its size, but the 3.0-liter V-6 is the standard engine for the extended cab model. The 4.0-liter is certainly the most powerful of the trio, but the 3.0-liter is fine unless you do much towing, or if you want four-wheel-drive. The Tremor comes only in rear-drive.

The Tremor also deletes the little flip-down rear jump seats to make room for some of the sound equipment. The Ranger is not available with four full doors - in the United States, anyway - and the extended cab uses a half-door design that opens front to rear. If you want four full doors and a back seat, Ford salespeople will point you to the Explorer Sport Trac.

Inside, the Tremor is reasonably roomy and surprisingly comfortable. Though the basic architecture of the Ranger hasn't changed for years, engineers have done a good job in refining the suspension to offer nimble handling and a much smoother ride than Rangers had a few years ago.

The Ranger's base model is the XL, and it's for fleet sales. Upgrade to the Edge or the XLT and the truck gets nicer, and by the time you get to the Tremor, you have a pretty complete package that includes air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel and power accessories.

As you upgrade, the prices rise, of course. The base Ranger lists for less than $14,000, but our Tremor started at $21,210, and with a few options and transportation, the bottom line was $21,945. Savvy marketing will continue to move Rangers, but when GM's new small trucks arrive for 2004, it might take more than that.