Ford (NYSE:F) said on Tuesday that it will release a new top-of-the-line version of its popular F-150 pickup later this year.
The new-for-2016 F-150 Limited will be priced around $60,000, a Ford spokesperson said. It will slot in above the current top-of-the-line Platinum model, which starts at $51,585.
That's a lot of money for a pickup truck. What's Ford thinking here?
A new top tier for the top-selling big pickup
Here's what Ford is thinking: profits.
As more and more Americans have adopted full-size pickup trucks as their daily vehicles, the Detroit automakers -- led by Ford -- have responded with more plush (and more profitable) trim lines.
Ford arguably invented the idea of a mass-market luxury pickup back in 2001, when it launched the first King Ranch F-150. That truck was inspired by limited-edition luxury pickups from General Motors' Cadillac and Ford's own Lincoln brand -- but unlike the short-lived luxury offerings, the King Ranch and other plush F-150s have stuck around.
This has turned into a hugely profitable line of business for the Blue Oval (and for its Detroit rivals, which have copied the strategy). Remember that a base-model F-150 starts at around $26,000 -- and it doesn't cost Ford more than twice as much to build these plush models. There's a lot of profit in the difference.
Ford hasn't been shy about making the most of buyers' appetites for plush trucks. Over time, Ford has pushed the "top of the line" upward, introducing ever more lavish King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited editions of past F-150s. They sell like hotcakes: Not long ago, TrueCar pointed out that the F-150 had become America's best-selling luxury vehicle.
Not long ago, the idea of a $50,000 F-150 seemed awfully daring. But with average transaction prices on the new-for-2015 F-150 hovering above $44,000, Ford has clearly decided that there's a market for a model that breaks the $60,000 line.
And here's a safe bet: If the F-150 Limited succeeds, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler will follow suit with plusher trucks of their own.
Rich leather, elaborate electronics -- and a twist: No V8 engine
The new F-150 Limited doesn't skimp on features. Ford says that the new truck will met "the growing, untapped needs of luxury customers looking for exclusivity, convenience, and fine craftsmanship that's differentiated from other high-series trucks."
That differentiation starts with a unique grille, special raised lettering on the truck's hood, and 22-inch chrome wheels that are exclusive to the model. Inside, there's rich leather and fancy wood -- "fiddleback eucalyptus," a variety that is also used in Bentley's posh Continental GT.
All of Ford's latest high-tech accessories come standard, including its slick new "Pro Trailer Backup Assist" system. Also included are a 360-degree camera, lane-keeping and adaptive-cruise controls, and Ford's new Sync 3 touchscreen system.
In a twist, the new F-150 Limited will be available only with the company's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. The models just below the new Limited, the King Ranch and Platinum trims, are available with Ford's 5.0-liter V8 -- but Ford thinks its top-tier truck deserves a turbocharged powerplant.
Ford says that the 2016 F-150 Limited will arrive at dealers by the end of the year. Full pricing will be announced later this summer.
So will it sell?
Will it sell? I bet it will sell quite well -- and Ford shareholders should be pleased by the results.
On one hand, a $60,000 pickup truck seems excessive. But Ford is already selling plenty of loaded F-150s for prices not all that far below that level, and it clearly has reason to believe that some of those buyers would spend even more if they could. This truck raises the luxury-truck game another notch, but it doesn't seem like a daring reach. If the new F-150 Limited delivers on its good looks and long list of features, it should find plenty of well-heeled buyers willing to pay up.