The Ford F-150 is the perennial leader in pickup truck sales. For 37 consecutive years it has been the top-selling nameplate among pickup trucks, easily surpassing the top-selling car in most years. Ford will soon be releasing an all-new model, one with an aluminum body. That lighter weighing truck is transformative, one that has Ford’s competitors carefully watching its progress.
The 2015 Ford F-150 has been placed in the hands of a number of journalists over the past few weeks. Auto Trends has yet to test the new model, waiting for a likely Dearborn media meet up or weekly test fleet inclusion. Certainly, I am not holding my breath about the latter!
Even so, we don’t need to test the next generation Ford F-150 to know that it is a game changer. Ford wants to continue dominating the segment, but General Motors, the Chrysler Group and to a much lesser extent Toyota and Nissan also want to have their say. Indeed, Ford’s aluminum initiative may not mean that it has sealed its place as the No. 1 truck model for the next generation, although it looks that it might have. Still, its competitors may strike back in other ways, effectively eroding Ford’s place as pickup truck kingpin. Let’s take a look at how that could shape up.
Ford has long been a thorn in GM’s side, especially with the F-150. The Chevrolet Silverado routinely trails the F-150 and has never overtaken its nemesis.
Despite its routine second-place finish, GM has a bigger picture in mind. This manufacturer sells its large pickup truck as two models — the Chevy Silverado and the GMC Sierra. Combined, sales of the two models will sometimes outsell the F-150. That happened this past Sept. when GM’s large trucks beat out the F-150 by 4,000 units.
GM also believes that its new line of midsize pickup trucks — the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon — will make a dent in competing model sales. Both trucks are available now; GM had advance orders for 42,000 units — 28,000 for Chevrolet and 14,000 for GMC. There are enough previous Colorado and Canyon owners out there who have been anticipating the new models.
Also, it is likely that most 2015 Colorado and Canyon shoppers currently own GM products, especially considering that owners of the competing Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks are very brand loyal. But with Ford’s Ranger no longer made, GM may lure Ranger owners who don’t want to trade up to the F-150.
GM also has a 1-2-3 pickup truck punch that Ford does not have. That punch represents a range of heavy duty, large and midsize pickup trucks, the only manufacturer with a presence in all three categories.
Chrysler’s Ram Brand
The Chrysler Group has Ram, what are sold as regular and heavy duty pickup trucks. Like Ford, Ram discontinued its midsize pickup truck, the Dakota, and is employing a different strategy to seize sales by offering an optional diesel engine with its regular duty pickup trucks.
At present, Ram is the only manufacturer to offer both heavy and regular duty diesel engines. Nissan will soon enter the fray with its own Cummins-supplied engine, but it only sells light-duty trucks. Chrysler recently worked with its Italian diesel engine supplier to boost production to meet strong demand.
Toyota and Nissan Pickups
Both Japanese manufacturers have tried to increase sales in the ultra-competitive pickup truck market. Over the past three years the companies have had the midsize truck market completely to themselves as Ford, GM and Chrysler made their exits. That advantage is now gone thanks to GM.
As far as large pickup trucks, neither Japanese manufacturer has posed much of a threat to the domestic-based manufacturers. Both have fallen far short of their original and subsequent sales goals.
Indeed, Toyota told Auto Trends in summer 2013 that it expected Tundra sales to increase 30 percent for 2014. Unfortunately, the company opted for a modest generational update even as its competitors had recently completed or set in motion plans for much more extensive changes. Through September, Tundra’s year-to-date sales were up by 8.6 percent, well below its forecast. Likely, it will be several more years before we see the next generation Toyota Tundra.
Nissan Titan sales have never been much to talk about. Introduced in 2004, this full-size pickup truck is still a year away from its second edition. That’s an uncommonly long time to keep a truck in place without a change. Titan sales are down by more than 20 percent through September and it seems likely that Nissan will fall far short of 20,000 units sold for the year or what Ford routinely sells every 10 days with the F-150. Still, Nissan has a new truck planned, one that may leapfrog Toyota in design, engineering and technology.
The Coming Years
Stiffer corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) ratings over the coming decade will force manufacturers to produce more efficient models. Pickup trucks are notoriously poor performers, with large trucks typically averaging no more than 20 to 25 mpg on the highway. Manufacturers must offset these vehicles with an assortment of lightweight, fuel efficient models elsewhere — hybrids, fuel cell vehicles and a greater number of diesel-powered models in the overall product mix will help.
The company that will struggle the most to reach these goals is the Chrysler Group. Ram sales represent a big slice of what this manufacturer makes, skewing the CAFE numbers accordingly. Jason Lancaster, editor of TundraHeadquarters.com, believes that Ram will have to increase its mix of diesel and V-6 engines to meet the ever tougher requirements. Said Lancaster, “While Ram can cheap sell Pentastar V6 powered 1500s all day long, they cant do that with the diesel. Whats more, truck buyers who are eager to lay down $30k on a half-ton with a decent (yet somewhat lumbering) V6 arent as common as Ram would like them to be.”
As for Ford’s pickup truck leadership, Mike Rabkin, President, From Car to Finish believes that the four GM models will outsell the Ford F-150. However, Rabkin wasn’t sure how GM would take its position as “most selling pickups of any manufacturer,” and turn it into a marketing advantage. Rabkin also believes the F-150 will retain its place as best-selling pickup truck model no matter what GM does.
Both experts had different takes on what Ford and its competitors should do in the coming years. Rabkin is for Ford bringing back the Ranger, a model it sells in other markets, while Lancaster is adamantly opposed to that move noting, “Ford needs economies of scale to maximize the investment theyre making in the F-150, and as we saw when Ford eliminated Ranger sales, the Ranger mostly competed with the F-150. Getting rid of the Ranger allowed Ford to invest more in the F-150.” The foreign sold Ranger, incidentally is of unibody construction, the same as the poor-selling Honda Ridgeline. Competing trucks from GM, Toyota and Nissan retain the body-on-frame characteristics that truck owners prize.
It probably will take until next summer to fully appreciate the new F-150’s impact on the market. Should Ford stumble, its competitors will look to jump in. Even so, Ford has been carefully protecting its position for decades and will do its part to ensure that the F-150 remains the first choice for pickup truck buying consumers.
Photos courtesy of Ford and GM. Remaining photos property of Auto Trends Magazine.