Ford's 2014 SVT Raptor. Photo Credit: Ford Motor.

Ford's (NYSE:F) bread-and-butter F-Series truck has been America's best-selling vehicle for 31 straight years, and the high-performance F-150 SVT Raptor is maybe the hottest premium version of the popular truck, setting record high sales in eight of the past 10 months. Five years after the worst recession in decades, people are finally beginning to purchase trucks for recreational use, not just for work. Can Ford take advantage of this trend and turn the Raptor into a big-time seller over rival General Motors (NYSE:GM), or will it remain a niche for off-road enthusiasts?

Across the auto industry, days' supply is a typical way to measure consumer demand for vehicles, with 60 days' supply being average. Sales for the increasingly popular Raptor are up 14% for the year, and Ford has maintained only a 15-day supply.

"Raptor owners are looking for a high-performing, uncompromising off-road pickup truck with the features and luxuries found in today's premium trucks," said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager, in a Ford press release. "Since its launch in 2009, we've continually moved Raptor forward in capability and design, and the 2014 Special Edition is the best Raptor yet."

In addition to its flashy looks in a typically bland styling segment, here's what makes the truck so popular.


Ford's 2014 SVT Raptor. Photo credit: Ford.

Built Ford tough
To start things off, the SVT Raptor is available only with a 6.2-liter V8 engine that muscles up the best-in-class 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque. For all that performance power, the Raptor's 16 MPG on the highway isn't horrible, and is only about 2 MPG less than my Mustang GT.

Ford has put out some innovation in the high-performance ride, too. It produced the first application of a wheel with both conventional and beadlock mounting abilities. A beadlock wheel simply secures the edges of a tire to the wheel between two surfaces so the tire is less likely to roll off the rim -- providing extra grip when needed off-road. The folks at the Blue Oval have even filed a patent on the system.

For the past three years, the SVT Raptor has set the standard for performance in part because of its industry-exclusive internal triple-bypass FOX Racing Shox dampers, skid plates, and Hill Descent Control.

Last year Ford introduced a front grille-mounted camera to help off-roaders see when climbing over steep hills, rocks, or whatever they happen to encounter on their journey. It even has a washer function to help the camera clear of mud or dirt, something that should definitely come in handy.


Interior of a 2014 SVT Raptor. Photo credit: Ford.

For the 2014 model you can expect high-intensity discharge headlamps to help improve visibility and SYNC with MyFord Touch for added connectivity in today's Internet fueled world. The connectivity system has an 8-inch center-mounted touch screen with five-way controls mounted on the steering wheel.

According to Ford, it also includes a nice set of standard safety options.

  • AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control
  • Trailer sway control
  • Safety Canopy System
  • Dual-stage front airbags
  • SecuriLock passive Anti-Theft Engine Immobilizer System
  • SOS Post-Crash Alert System
  • Four-wheel anti-lock brake system

Interior of Ford's 2014 SVT Raptor. Photo credit: Ford.

Investing takeaway
This is yet another great story out of the company for Ford investors, but this isn't a model that is going to move the needle in terms of profitability, and it will probably remain a niche vehicle -- only 13,000 Raptors were sold in 2012, compared with nearly 650,000 F-Series trucks overall. But that doesn't mean it isn't a big deal. Consider that the recent success of the Raptor does two important things.

First, this gives Ford great insights to what consumers want and desire in a more premium truck -- knowledge the company will no doubt use as it puts the finishing touches on the next-generation 2015 F-150. Secondly, the success and attention the Raptor has been getting recently helps Ford steal back some of the press that GM's all-new Silverado and Sierra were getting over the summer. Both are very important aspects for Ford right now, and investors can rest assured that the company is positioned to deliver an excellent second half of 2013, and a great 2014.

Fool contributor Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors and owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.