Ford's Error: Light Truck Sales Are Not Only About One Thing

Nothing gets some Americans riled up quite like the truck wars. Pickup truck buyers are very loyal, often buying the same truck time after time even after test driving the competitors. This is normally taken as a boon for the truckmaker in the number one spot, which for 36 years has been Ford with its F-150 again and again reigning king. Just look at those YTD sales numbers. The F-150 is so popular it outsells all other nameplates in almost half of the United States.

But success breeds complacency, and Ford has met an awful lot of success. Because of this, the two other domestic truck marques have resorted to other strategies that may result in massive sales without Ford even turning to answer their challenges. Likely because the challenges involve options that were thought to still be on the fringes of public wants, and therefore not likely to become profitable.

Ford's Error: Light Truck Sales Are Not Only About One Thing

The first truck maker to try was Ram. Long the runt of the Big Three, Ram decided to take things in a new direction with their fourth generation 1500. On its reveal, among the usual talking points, were two little nuggets that became the new truck's distinctions: the RamBox system, and the first-in-segment coil-spring rear suspension. The RamBox has some peculiarities, and its use really depends on what you're doing (not to mention cutting into the bed, so it's no surprise most Rams I see online don't have it), but it's proven popular enough to not be removed as an option, so someone somewhere is making use of it. More interesting was the new suspension, which has gotten universal acclaim for making the ride more comfortable than its competitors, a trait further magnified with the 2013 facelift's optional air suspension.

The much bigger revelation for truck buyers, however, was the announcement that the 2014 Ram 1500 will be available later in the model year with a turbocharged V6 diesel. Neither Ford nor Chevy are willing to follow quite yet, content for now to leave their diesel offerings strictly in the heavy duty segment where it makes practical sense to offer oil-burners. However, the announcement met with such wide fervor that Ram now wonders if it will be able to build trucks fast enough. Now, how many Ram diesel sales will be conquests from the other two makes and how many will simply be upgrades for people who were going to buy a Ram anyways remains to be seen, but given the forecasted supply problems, it seems as if there's a large untapped market for people who really want a diesel pickup, but don't want to get a Heavy Duty truck, and it works in Ram's favor that they're the first truck to offer that.

The other strategy aiming to dethrone Ford?

Ford's Error: Light Truck Sales Are Not Only About One Thing

GM will bring the global Colorado to both US Chevy and GMC dealers. (Albeit with different looks.) I've talked left and right about how I want the global Ford Ranger to come here. Ford has stubbornly said no. I understand why they killed it, with poor sales on an aging product that Ford did not want to spend the money to update because stupid government regulations conspire against it, yet the buying public doesn't care and wants small trucks. Ford tried advertising the F-150 EcoBoost by having Chief Engineer Jackie DiMarco do an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and was met with an unrelenting barrage of comments about how people will not accept a full-size truck as a substitute for the Ranger. These are the buyers that Ford had hoped would jump from their old Rangers to new F-150s, but while some undoubtedly did it seems many more jumped ship and bought either another small pickup still on offer from another brand, or else quit pickups all together.

Ford mistook their loyalty for Rangers as loyalty to Ford Trucks in general, and with GM bringing a smaller-than-full-size truck back to our shores, those people who would have happily bought a new Ranger (but not an F-150) are likely to abandon Ford and bolster GM's market share. Combined with Ram's diesel and hardware advancements, and it is likely for Ford's market share to drop.

What is not likely is for the F-150 to lose its crown as best-selling pickup, with a redesign due soon and a healthy lead in sales. But it seems as if Ram and GM are no longer trying to dethrone the F-150 specifically and instead are choosing to cut away Ford's market share by other means. The F-150 may very well remain king, but its kingdom may very well shrink from Ram's and Chevy's attacks.