The latest update in the full-sized pickup wars came from Consumer Reports on Tuesday. The venerable consumer magazine has tested General Motors' (NYSE: GM ) all-new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups – and it rates GM's new trucks as the new top dogs.
But as the magazine's testers point out, it was a close battle: Not between the Chevy and the Ford (NYSE: F ) F-150, America's top-selling pickup, but between the Chevy and Chrysler's Ram 1500, which got a big update for 2013.
The Ford? It fell to third.
A tough showing for Ford's flagship product
Technically, if you look at Consumer Reports' rating page for full-sized pickups, the Ford fell to fifth – behind the Sierra, the Silverado, GM's Chevy Avalanche, and the Ram 1500. That's a dim showing for the Blue Oval, and it's at odds with many buyers' perceptions. What's the deal?
Well, the deal is pretty simple: Fresher products usually win in these kinds of comparisons. The Chevy is all-new. It was just released a few months ago – in fact, dealers are still selling down the outgoing models. But already there are signs that it's gaining ground on Ford.
And while the Ram isn't all-new, it got a major refresh for the 2013 model year, and reviews have been very positive. Consumer Reports' testers think the Ram is the most comfortable pickup to drive, with a "smooth ride" and a "whisper-quiet cabin".
Meanwhile, Ford has soldiered on with its F-150, which gets a nip and tuck almost every year but which hasn't had a major refresh since 2011 – and which hasn't been all-new since 2009.
That is expected to change soon, of course. It's widely believed that Ford will show an all-new F-150 at the North American International Auto Show in January, and will roll it out to dealers next spring. Given the success of Ford's other recent new products, that new F-150 is likely to be a very strong contender – but meanwhile, the Chevy and the Ram are the top dogs, at least in Consumer Reports' eyes.
So how much does this matter?
Probably not all that much.
The F-Series is still a very strong product line. Ford's fuel-efficient powertrains are favorites of many fleet managers, and Ford pickup customers tend to be very loyal as a group. And of course Ford has a big incentive to protect its pickup franchise -- the F-Series is its most profitable product line anywhere in the world.
It's unlikely that the F-Series' lead in overall sales in the booming U.S. pickup market will be dented very heavily. GM's new pickups are a clear improvement over the old ones, but GM took a relatively conservative approach to their redesign: The new Silverado and Sierra are very nice, but they're not game-changing products – and they weren't intended to be.
But Ford's new pickup could be a big leap forward. Will it be enough for Ford to grab and hold top-dog status in these kinds of reviews as well as in the marketplace? We'll find out in a few months.
Why the next F-series truck might need even better gas mileage
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