Detroit's pickup wars rage on, endlessly, it seems. It's no small battle, either, as crosstown rivals Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU), generate a majority of their profits through the heavy-volume-selling full-size pickups. Ford's F-Series has been the best-selling vehicle in North America for 32 years now, and the top two selling spots have been full-size trucks for many years.
On the eve of Ford's all-new F-150 hitting the markets, the pickup war is about to get kicked up another notch. The question might be, though, as Ford jumped ahead of its competitors to entirely change its production process to use aluminum body panels rather than steel, did it pull the trigger too soon? Is the F-150 too far ahead of its time -- are consumers ready for the aluminum F-150?
The heat is on!
Everyone knows how heated the rivalry is between Ford and GM. It's a rivalry passed down to consumers, as well -- you're either a Ford guy or you're a Chevy guy. It's set in stone, and it's been that way for a long time, too.
The rivalry is reflected in the sales figures too, and what a tight race it is. If you total all the F-Series trucks Ford has sold from 1998 through 2013 and compare it to the amount of Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras combined, which do you think ends up on top? And by how much?
It turns out Ford's F-Series ends up on top, with nearly 12 million units sold in that time frame. General Motors, with sales of its two trucks combined, checks in roughly 25,000 units behind. In other words, Ford has only managed to outsell its crosstown rival by less than half a month's worth of trucks over a 16-year time frame.
That's insanely close. That's Yankee-Red Sox rivalry-worthy; that's Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers material. That's KU and K-State basketball close -- OK, caught me on that last one, just making sure you're awake.
Window of opportunity
This year represented a window of opportunity for General Motors, as it had fresh designs of both its Silverado and Sierra trucks, and a year to convince consumers who were considering buying a full-size truck to do so now, before the new F-150 hit the markets.
While General Motors' trucks have commanded strong pricing and profits, sales have seemingly failed to take full advantage of this window of opportunity. Silverado sales have improved a meager 6.4% this year through October, compared to the same time frame last year. Meanwhile, sales of the Sierra have climbed 9%. Those gains are even less impressive when considering sales of the overall U.S. auto market have moved 5.5% higher.
If anything, the full-size truck that has seized the opportunity this year has been Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Dodge Ram, with sales surging nearly 23% this year, through October, compared to last year.
With all that said, the original question remains: Are consumers ready for Ford's aluminum-bodied truck? Will full-size-pickup loyalists accept the idea of a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine option? While the ultimate answer will be delivered through a full year's worth of sales numbers in 2015, early indications are very positive for Ford.
Consider that more than 225,000 consumers have submitted their personal contact information to receive updates on the new F-150. In addition to those consumers, 250,000 customers have built and priced their version of the truck on Ford's website; that number sounds irrelevant until you hear that that's an all-time record through 13 generations of the truck, according to Ford.
Relax, it's still Ford tough
To help reinforce that the up to 700 pounds shaved off the F-150 through use of aluminum body panels doesn't hinder the effectiveness of the truck, Ford put more than 10 million miles of testing on its new truck. Also, the new high-strength steel frame improvements help the 2015 F-150 tow up to 1,100 pounds more and haul up to 530 pounds more than its 2014 predecessor.
You know how the saying goes: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." In this case, it appears that the 2015 F-150 will cause competitors to scramble to catch up. General Motors is said to be working toward a largely aluminum-bodied pickup to be completed by late 2018 -- under pressure from Ford's jump into aluminum as well as increasingly stringent fuel-efficiency requirements.
It appears that consumers are indeed ready to accept an aluminum-bodied truck. It only appears that Ford's 2015 F-150 is too far advanced because its competition is so far behind. Make no mistake, this is a huge gamble on Ford's part, and it could become a huge and costly mistake -- but if Ford executes the launch flawlessly and consumers follow through on their interest, it could be a huge win.
Stay tuned: The truck war is just about to hit on all cylinders.