- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler are both claiming victory after their new pickups won awards at the annual Texas Truck Rodeo, but both companies are also already offering incentives on the new models - another sign of just how tough the truck market has become.

Dearborn-based Ford’s 2009 F-150 took home the top honors from the Texas Auto Writers Association’s truck competition, winning the coveted “Truck of Texas” title.

But the rival offering from Auburn Hills-based Chrysler, the 2009 Dodge Ram, was named “Full-Size Truck of Texas” in the influential judging.

“We won the category in hand-to-hand combat against Ford,” said Chrysler spokesman Bryan Zvibleman.

“We feel we’ve got the best truck on the marketplace.”

Ford has a different take on the situation.

“I am not going to debate their interpretation of the results,” said Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari. “The F-150 is the Truck of Texas, the Expedition King Ranch is the SUV of Texas, the Ford Flex is the CUV of Texas and Ford is the Truck Line of Texas.”

Association President Harold Gunn offered some clarity.

“We have several categories. The Dodge Ram indeed won the full-size pickup truck of Texas. But the one that everybody wants to win is the one Ford won: the Truck of Texas. That is the big deal.”

Despite the accolades, both automakers are already offering incentives on the new trucks.

Ford is launching its new truck with $2,000 on any trade-in or 6.9 percent financing on either a sale or a lease.

“It’s not a sell-down effort,” Gattari said.

“It’s to help customers who are having a hard time trading in vehicles because of the resale value of their trucks.”

Dodge is offering $1,000 in customer cash on the Ram, Zvibleman said.

Analyst Erich Merkle of Crowe Horwath in Grand Rapids said that would have been a bad sign a few years ago, but said it is understandable in this economy.

F-series sales were down more than 41 percent last month, year-over-year. Ram sales were down nearly 31 percent.

“I just think it’s a sign of the times,” he said, adding that truck sales have fallen sharply over the past couple of years.

“It’s still going to be a difficult market, but the pickup segment will come back. It won’t come back to the levels we had in 2005, but it will improve - and it’s always going to be a viable, profitable segment.”

And it is a segment that he said Ford continues to own.

“The Dodge is more stylish. The F-150 looks more industrial. It looks like a piece of equipment, which isn’t a bad thing in a truck,” he said.

“The F-150 is a better truck on the job. It’s the gold-standard in the segment.”

As for Gunn, he was a lot more diplomatic.

“The ballots are secret,” he said. “But everybody is making great vehicles - and the consumer is the winner.”

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