I've long been a proponent of Ford (NYSE: F), and sales show that the F-Series and its closest competitor -- the Silverado from General Motors (NYSE: GM) -- have long dominated sales in the U.S. market. That's a big deal, since both companies derive much of their profits in North America from the full-size pickup segment, and some analysts estimate that profits could be as large as $10,000 per truck.
In the past, Consumer Reports has clobbered the Dodge Ram, but that wasn't the case this year. Will the Ram's recent victory in Consumer Reports help the pickup take market share away from its F-Series and Silverado rivals?
Line in the sand
Long ago, intensely loyal truck enthusiasts decided that you're either a Ford guy or Chevy guy, and nothing else mattered. That left the Dodge Ram on the outside looking in – something Chrysler hopes to change. Here's how sales have stacked up recently.
You can see a recent uptick in Ram sales, mostly taken away from the Silverado, as the F-Series remains on a sales rampage. One reason for Ford's success is that in terms of redesigns, GM's 2013 Silverado is a dinosaur -- years overdue for a new model look.
That's because it's taken years for GM to become financially stable from its bailout and have the cash flow to redesign its vehicles. Finally, as we're seeing an automotive industry rebound and profitability improve, GM is beginning to redesign many vehicles – including its most important one, the Silverado.
What's the big deal?
Consumer Reports magazine announced that the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup is the best full-size pickup, with a score of 78 in road testing, according to Automotive News. That scores 10 points ahead of Ford's F-Series. Consumer Reports is known for rigorous testing, and it's valuable for Dodge to receive this ranking and even be "recommended."
But there is a caveat. The Ram 1500 is the freshest out of the domestic automakers' full-size pickups. The Silverado is introducing its first redesigned model since 2007 -- and Consumer Reports hasn't finished testing the new model. In addition, Ford's next-generation 2015 F-Series has been hugely hyped and looks to impress when it hits the market. So what's better about the Ram 1500 right now?
"Continued interior and powertrain improvements make the Ram a particularly well-rounded choice," said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn, according to Automotive News.
Edmunds agrees, giving it an "A" rating and noting reasons for its ranking as "supple ride and composed handling; eight-speed transmission; impressive base V6 engine; refined cabin; impressive tech features and controls."
With substantial rumors that Chrysler will again go public, as Ford and General Motors already are, would an improved Ram -- the company's profit driver -- make it a surprise winner during its initial public offering?
While it's true that Detroit's Big Three automakers derive a massive portion of their overall profits from trucks, and as the Ram potentially improves sales revenues, it still isn't enough to make Chrysler a viable investment, in my opinion. Chrysler is far behind Ford and GM in producing valuable, fuel-efficient vehicles, and that's a big trend for the future U.S. market. Ford's Fusion, Focus, and Fiesta have been extremely successful for the company, and even its hybrid sales are on pace to double this year. General Motors has fuel-efficient vehicles, not to the extent Ford has, but GM has another trick up its sleeve -- a successful luxury line. Its Cadillac brand is having its most improved year since 1976 and is riding high from its fast-selling ATS and CTS models.
Having the 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 rank No. 1 with Consumer Reports makes for a good headline, but it doesn't save Chrysler from being a bad investment if it goes public. Ford and GM, on the other hand, have just reported strong Q2 earnings and only look to improve as they become more lean operations and grow sales globally -- which Chrysler is struggling to do. As the automotive industry continues to rebound, Ford and GM remain solid investment options.
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