- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

There’s a sweeping perception that the full-size-pickup market is withering, but Ford reports that’s not the case. In fact, F-150 sales are on the rise.

“We’ve had great momentum on trucks since the beginning of the fourth quarter” of 2008,” said Doug Scott, Ford truck marketing manager. “Not coincidentally, it belongs to the new F-150. The truck has certainly been a spark. We’re doing very well with it, and it’s showing up in the share data.”

Looking at just manufacturer-reported sales and at F-Series pickups as a whole (F-150 and Super Duty combined), Mr. Scott said Ford’s share of full-size pickups went from 26.9 percent in the third quarter to almost a 10-point improvement - up to 36.4 for the fourth quarter.

In sales of light-duty pickups only - the F-150’s territory - Ford basically had a six percentage point improvement in the fourth quarter in a year-over-year basis, he said. Ford closed the month of January about five points ahead of January a year ago, in terms of segment share in light-duty pickups.

“There’s been a strong response from our customer base,” Mr. Scott said. “Our loyalty is up and our conquest performance is up, compared to the third quarter. The loyal F-150 truck owners who we focused the most attention on have responded very well, as have the competitive owners, to the new truck.”

While one might expect in these uncertain economic times for truck buyers to be conservative with the way they outfit pickups, Ford reports a rich launch mix. Typical of past new-truck introductions, there has been a strong demand for highly equipped and upper-line pickups.

“The SuperCrew, which we stretched six inches, is running at 63 percent of our volume so far,” Mr. Scott said. “That compares to the whole 2008 model year at 51 percent for SuperCrew. Another indication of the rich launch mix is 4x4 sales. The drive-type typically runs about 50/50 between 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive, and we’re actually running over 60 percent 4-wheel drive thus far.”

Looking at series mix, the high-end Lariat is running more than 40 percent of the mix. Generally, the Lariat would be about 25 percent of the mix.

For consumers bracing for fuel prices to once again climb, Ford has good news with its F Series pickups.

“Overall, across the line, we have an 8 percent fuel-economy improvement,” Mr. Scott said. “Actually, it’s 12 percent on the 5.4-liter compared to the 2008 model.”

He credits the new SFE model as giving Ford a position and status it hasn’t had in the full-size segment.

“With all of our success, we’ve never had a strong class-leading position on fuel economy,” Mr. Scott said. “And now with the SFE, we’re in that unsurpassed fuel position with a city label of 15 and a highway of 21.”

These figures match GM’s new XFE offering, but Mr. Scott gives Ford’s SFE the fuel-efficiency edge because, unlike the XFE, it doesn’t require a tonneau cover to obtain the label. The SFE gets improved fuel economy via a combination of factors: it has two-wheel drive, a lower axle ratio, a 4.5-liter three-valve V-8 with a new six-speed automatic transmission, plus the F-150’s improved aerodynamics.

“It’s not a truck that someone would look at as a stripped truck,” he said. “It’s an XLT - a midlevel series. It has the chrome package, so it’s got chrome running boards, chrome door handles, chrome mirrors. We expect, especially in the Sunbelt area - Texas, California, Florida, Georgia etc. - to do well with that truck.”

Mr. Scott said EcoBoost, which is coming in 2010 as a 2011 model, promises a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy by combining direct injection with turbocharging.

While GM and Chrysler are improving fuel-economy numbers with hybrid powertrain technology, Ford views the hybrid potential for full-size pickups as “extremely limited,” he said. A big price tag and compromises in capability are the basic problems with hybrids.

Mr. Scott expects continued strong sales for the F-150 in an awakening full-size pickup market that industry experts project will grow - rising from its current 1.6 million annual sales to near the 2.5 million it experienced in its 2004-2005 heyday.

“If you look at our forecast and that of most of the third parties,” he said, “you get out in the 2012, 2013 time frame, and generally people are seeing a recovery in the full-size pickup market back to the 2 million, 2.1 million sort of level.”

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