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.
Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.