Ford (NYSE:F) took the wraps off of its all-new 2017 F-Series Super Duty pickups on Thursday.
These are the brawnier siblings of Ford's big-selling F-150 pickup that was all-new for 2015. Like the new F-150, the Super Duty models have body panels made of a sturdy aluminum alloy.
Those new panels helped cut the weight of the big pickups, just as they did with the F-150. But the weight savings aren't as much as you'd think: The new Super Duty models are "up to" 350 pounds lighter than the old ones, Ford says. Ford managed "up to 700 pounds" with the F-150.
Ford could have chosen to make its all-new Super Duty models even lighter. But it chose another course instead, because the Blue Oval is trying a slightly different strategy with its biggest pickups.
Ford used the weight reduction to boost the things that Super Duty buyers want most
Ford's 2017 F-Series Super Duty lineup includes three basic models: F-250, F-350, and F-450. As the numbers go up, so do the truck's capabilities -- and so does the price.
Ford didn't take advantage of the weight savings from the aluminum body panels to boost fuel economy. Instead, Ford's truck engineers chose to add strength (and weight) to the new trucks' frames and suspension underpinnings.
The frames aren't aluminum -- they're high-strength steel, fully "boxed" on pickup models for increased strength and a smoother ride, and "up to 24 times stiffer" than the old Super Duty frames, Ford says. Ford is also touting the new trucks' stronger axles, springs, and suspension components, which should give the new Super Duty models increased work capacity and durability.
Those things are key to Super Duty customers. Traditionally, these are work trucks, capable of hauling big trailers and heavy loads. Many are ordered in "chassis cab" configuration, essentially a pickup with a cabin and a bare frame where the pickup bed would normally sit. Aftermarket companies can turn these into many different kinds of specialized vehicles -- small dump trucks, ambulances, even motorhomes.
Of course, a lot of Super Duty trucks are also sold as traditional pickups. And while plenty of those find their ways into commercial truck fleets, where their heavy-duty capabilities are put to hard use, many also end up with individual consumers.
Ford has put extra effort into those trucks, too.
A new level of luxury in heavy-duty pickups
There's a relatively small but very lucrative market for trucks with big work capabilities that are also luxurious. Think, for instance, of well-to-do folks who haul horse trailers to dressage events, or who need to take a big boat to and from the summer house every year.
The all-new 2017 Super Duty models are ready to contend for that market as well.
The Blue Oval has loaded up the new Super Duty models with options that will appeal to those kinds of buyers. Those options will include lavish leather-trimmed interiors with Ford's latest SYNC 3 infotainment system, sophisticated LED lighting, and a slew of cameras. There's even a camera that can be attached to a trailer, to assist with backing up, and a "reverse guidance" system that uses all of the cameras to help seasoned drivers park a big trailer with precision.
There are a lot of other driver aids available on the new trucks, including blind-spot alerts, lane-departure warnings, and a sophisticated adaptive cruise control system. All of the systems adjust to account for the trailer when the truck has one in tow.
Ford essentially invented the idea of a luxury pickup with its original King Ranch model back in 2001. Packages that add luxury features to pickups have proven to be very popular with customers, and extremely profitable for Ford. Those customers weren't neglected: The 2017 Super Duty will have Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum trim levels available.
The Super Duty is a super-important product for Ford
Ford doesn't break out Super Duty sales from total F-Series sales. But company officials acknowledge that the Super Duty models account for roughly 30% of Ford's total F-Series sales. Put another way, Ford sells 15,000 to 20,000 of the big trucks in the U.S. every month, give or take. Those are substantial numbers. And these trucks are exceptionally profitable products, especially in the higher-level trims.
The F-150 may be Ford's most important product in terms of profits, but the Super Duty models are also very important to Ford's bottom line.
That's why Ford puts a tremendous amount of effort into its pickups. History suggests that it's exceptionally good at knowing what its buyers want -- even if it doesn't seem obvious at first. Traditional truck-buyers were leery of the aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150 when it was first announced. But now that Ford has its pickup factories working at full speed, sales are surging.
The new Super Duty trucks will start to arrive at dealers late next year. Given the record of the new F-150 -- and the big improvements that Ford has made to its heavy-duty models -- it's likely that they'll prove to be very popular once buyers have a chance to check them out.