As anyone who had their finger anywhere near the pulse of the black rifle market knows, the market had become saturated with semi automatic rifles as of July or August of 2009.
The ferocious buying frenzy dried up pretty rapidly.
Meanwhile, the economy continued to get worse. People continued to lose their jobs. Those who didn’t lose their jobs might still have had to deal with reduced hours or pay cuts.
All through this period, a number of people continued to hold out for the release of the Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR), initially designed by Magpul Industries before a partnership with Bushmaster Firearms. It was reported to be a lightweight, reliable, and above all, affordable, carbine – an FN SCAR for the masses, if you will. It had been in development for years, and the release date kept getting pushed back.
Finally, though, a firm date – a release after SHOT 2010.
To say that anticipation had built up to tumultuous levels would be a drastic understatement. The years of waiting were over. The product was all but in the hands of thousands – probably tens of thousands – of fans.
Release, Sweet Release
Until the details started to roll out.
Rate of twist – 1 in 9. “An innovative coating for long life” – not chrome lining.
Weight – over 8 pounds unloaded. Initial claims were in the 6 and a half pound range.
Models – “Basic” and “Enhanced”. The Basic model does not have a folding stock or a railed forend. The Enhanced model does, but…
Price – MSRP is $2685 for the Basic and $3061 for the Enhanced. While many could put up with all of the above, this proved to be a deal breaker for many, who had planned on spending no more than $1500, perhaps $1800, based on figures released by Magpul and/or Bushmaster.
Many chose to take their frustration out on Magpul. It had been claimed by both Magpul and Bushmaster that the two companies were “partnered” on the project. Several forum posts by Magpul higher-ups scoffed at – or insulted – claims of high MSRPs or other issues by various posters (I was not among them). This has not helped their cause in light of the above information.
However, I feel that anger with Magpul is essentially unwarranted. In my opinion, Magpul made one major mistake – partnering with Bushmaster. When that was announced in early 2008, I lost all interest in the project. I was skeptical of Bushmaster’s ability to deliver the right product at the right price. Anyone who was interested in the ACR should have vented their frustrations with Magpul at that point.
Note: the following is almost entirely speculation. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about everything you read from this point on.
It now appears that Bushmaster had led Magpul to believe that they had a much larger role in the project than they actually did. The Magpul folks are pretty savvy when it comes to PR – just look at their website. They wouldn’t respond the way they did to pre-release criticism unless they really believed what they were saying. Bushmaster may have been treating them like a mushroom. Oh, and Bushmaster probably smiled and nodded whenever Magpul may or may not have had input on the project.
As of early 2009, a Remington ACR prototype exhibited signs of overgassing at an industry shoot (Which causes me to ask the question – if it didn’t run right in 2009, how was it running in 2007 or 2008, when Bushmaster took over the project? After all, the anticipation for the rifle was built almost entirely on hype, not concrete knowledge that the design was ready for production as of Q4 2007). I am entirely certain that those problems have been fixed prior to the release of the weapon – however, one way to fix that problem is to increase the weight of the reciprocating assembly. Many people malign the AR-15’s buffer tube without understanding the vital role that it plays in the operation of the weapon. Without that buffer assembly, a heavier bolt or carrier or other associated parts may be required for perfect function in all conditions.
One forumite jokingly suggested the excessive use of tungsten as an explanation for the ACR’s relatively massive weight gain. He may not be far from the truth. The weapon has what is for all intents and purposes a government profile barrel, light weight under the handguards, which is what most AR-15 carbines have – yet those carbines weigh just over 6 pounds in stock configuration. In addition, the ACR makes use of several polymer parts that should reduce their weight compared to the aluminum parts used in an AR-15.
This leaves the bolt and carrier assembly as a likely source for the weight gain, especially when one considers the issues that the ACR exhibited. Nearly 2 additional pounds means that there is a serious chunk of metal somewhere in the rifle.
And that’s not even the (heavier) model with the folding stock and the railed forend, which has a $3061 MSRP.
To be fair, products rarely sell at or above their MSRP for very long, unless there is a lot of demand. We’ll see just how much demand remains for the ACR in a few months, but even a $2400/$2700 street price would place the rifle solidly at or above FN SCAR territory. Furthermore, the ~$2450 SCAR comes standard with a railed forend and a folding stock. Moving down in price, we see offerings from LWRC between $1800 and $2400, the KAC SR15E3 for $1800-$2200, and the Robinson Arms XCR for $1600-$1800. Every single one of those rifles is significantly lighter and offers more features than the ACR Basic model. In addition, every one – with the possible exception of the XCR – comes from a company with a lot of well-earned “street cred” in military, police, or civilian circles (or all of the above).
I won’t bother discussing the barrel for very long, but suffice it to say that a 1/9 M4 profile barrel that the manufacturer refuses to divulge finish specifications for is not going to inspire confidence or a long line of willing buyers. The only remotely (but not completely) rational explanation I’ve heard for buying a 1/9 barrel is the use of 36-40gr varmint bullets. Does Bushmaster think that varmint shooters will line up to buy an 8 1/2 pound piston operated carbine with what is essentially (for accuracy purposes) a lightweight barrel – for $2500-$3000?
Apparently they do.