Most of us don't think of Ford (NYSE:F) as a big maker of luxury vehicles -- but a recent report suggests that we might have to rethink that mindset.
Nope, it's not about Lincoln. The Blue Oval's luxury division is growing, but it's still a minor player in the booming luxury-vehicle market. But it turns out that -- at least by one definition -- Ford has the best-selling luxury vehicle in America.
If you look at vehicles selling for $50,000 or more, the sales winner, by a huge margin, is Ford's F-Series line of pickups.
The F-150 starts at about $26,000, but many of Ford's pickups sell for a lot more. And this fall, Ford is planning to tempt its well-heeled pickup buyers with an even more expensive new version of the F-150.
But is Ford taking the idea of a loaded pickup truck a step too far?
A new offering for "discerning truck customers"
Ford says that the new-for-2016 F-150 Limited will be "the most advanced, luxurious F-150 ever." It's aimed at "discerning truck customers interested in exclusivity, capability, and craftsmanship -- those looking to differentiate themselves from buyers of other high-series trucks."
It's clear what Ford means by "other high-series trucks." Both General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Fiat Chrysler have rolled out higher-end pickup offerings in an effort to boost profit margins. FCA's chrome-bedecked Ram Laramie Limited is still new, but GM has been at the luxury-truck game for a while with some success: Its GMC Sierra has the highest average transaction prices of any full-size pickup truck.
But Ford pioneered the idea of a luxury pickup with its King Ranch model back in 2001, and it's taking things to yet another level with the Limited.
The Limited package includes a bunch of Ford's latest high-tech touches. Ford's complete F-150 "technology package" come standard on the Limited. That includes a 360-degree camera system, adaptive cruise control, and Ford's lane-keeping technology.
What else? How about "multicontour massaging front seats?" Yes, in a pickup truck.
As you can see in the photos, Ford has also stuffed it full of nice leather and gleaming trim details, as you'd expect. The only available engine will be Ford's 3.5 liter twin-turbo "EcoBoost" V6. (If you want a V8, you'll have to settle for a one-tier-down Platinum model.)
So how much will all this cost? The starting price for the posh new F-150 hasn't been announced, but Ford spokesperson Mike Levine told me that it will be "around $60,000."
Even then, there will be at least one available extra-cost option, Ford's slick new "Pro Trailer Backup Assist" system. (There might be more, but Ford hasn't released all of the details yet.)
It's already possible to option up the soon-to-be-one-level-down F-150 Platinum to over $60,000. That suggests that it's possible that an F-150 Limited with all the options could have a sticker price close to $70,000.
It's a lot of money for a pickup truck, even with massaging seats
No matter the options, the Limited's $60,000 price tag is a big step up from the Platinum model's $51,585 starting price (and from the $49,665 starting price of GMC's luxurious Sierra Denali pickup). Is it too much money for a pickup truck?
I bet Ford will find buyers who don't think so. Ford is already selling a whole lot of loaded F-150s. As I mentioned above, according to data from TrueCar, the F-Series (which includes the F-150 and its Super Duty siblings) is already America's best-selling vehicle over $50,000 by a wide margin.
It's true that the F-150 starts at about $26,000, and the Super Duty models start at a little over $32,000. But Ford said that its "premium" F-150 models, the Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum, accounted for about half of F-150 sales in June. The Lariat starts at a little over $39,000.
Yes, those are sticker prices and there are usually discounts. But the average transaction prices -- the prices that buyers actually pay -- for the F-Series line have been around $44,000 for the last few months.
Luxury trucks are clearly booming, and I don't think Ford is going to have too much trouble finding buyers for the F-150 Limited.
The business case for the new Limited is simple: Luxury trucks equal big profits
It may seem like a crazy trend to those who think of pickups as utilitarian devices -- or who can't imagine paying $60,000 for a pickup truck with massaging seats.
But Ford shareholders should cheer for the new F-150 Limited. Ford's profit margins in North America have been great for a few years now, and its practice of offering luxurious options packages on its mainstream models has had a lot to do with that.
When Ford's F-Series pickups are selling at an average of $44,000, there's a lot of profit for Ford in each of those sales. If throwing some $60,000 (or $70,000) F-150 Limiteds into the mix helps nudge that average transaction price up another notch or two, so much the better for the Blue Oval's bottom line.