As Ford F-150 Changes, So Does The Market And Future Truck Plans. Boss V-8 Engine Program Faces Headwinds
By: Mike Levine Posted: 06-22-08 00:00 ET
© 2008

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Record high fuel prices and a stampede of urban cowboys exiting big pickups for smaller vehicles are roiling Ford Motor Company’s short and long term truck plans.

Last week Ford announced it was delaying the introduction of the new 2009 Ford F-150 by two months and cutting shifts at two factories where the truck will be built, in Kansas City, Mo. and Dearborn, Mich.

Ford marketing chief Jim Farley recently told journalists that the company expects the full-size truck segment will sell 1.5 million units in 2008, about 9 percent of all vehicles sold. That’s dramatically lower than full-size truck sales in 2004 and 2005, when big pickups annually sold 2.5 million units, or 15 percent of all vehicles.

But the steep drop in full-size sales volume isn't the only change getting attention in Dearborn. Ford has also noticed significant changes in the mix of F-Series (F-150 to F-450) cab models and engines as personal use buyers leave the segment.

"[On a percentage basis the past 12 months] sales of regular cab pickups are climbing back up as crew cabs are falling," says Mike Crowley, Ford's truck and SUV group marketing manager. "Historically, regular cabs have been about 12 percent of our business. Today, regular cab sales are 20 percent, while crew cabs have fallen from 65 percent to the mid-fifties. Extended cab sales remain about the same, around 25 percent."

Mr. Crowley says the reason for the increase in regular cab penetration is because core truck buyers (fleets, farmers, contractors) continue to buy pickups to replace old trucks while personal use buyers, the biggest buyers of four-door pickups, leave the segment entirely or hold off on buying new trucks. And commercial buyers who might have purchased an extended or crew cab are being forced to purchase a regular cab pickup after considering the cost of $4 a gallon gasoline and $5 a gallon diesel.

That’s potentially bad news for Ford’s profit margins on pickups. Crew cabs, especially fully outfitted versions like Lariat and King Ranch models, bring in up to tens of thousands of dollars more than lower trimmed regular cab versions. A 2008 Ford F-150 Super Crew Lariat with four-wheel-drive, for instance, has a $36,000 base price, excluding destination - $18,100 more than the cheapest regular cab F-150.

"People buy as much truck as they can afford," says Mr. Crowley.

As Ford launches the 2009 F-150, marketing emphasis will be placed on the middle-of-the-road XLT model, which makes up about 40% of all F-150 sales volume. Mr. Crowley calls the XLT the heart of the market. It’s the model that’s held up best with core truck buyers.

High fuel and hardware prices are also impacting which engines buyers are selecting in Ford’s heavy-duty pickups. Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Dutys have long been popular with buyers looking for pickups with maximum capability.

"We used to run at 75% diesel sales but now sales are at 60% diesel," says Mr. Crowley, as gasoline engines have increased their percentage share from 25% to 40%.

What’s so important about this shift is that diesel engines have long been the choice of Ford Super Duty buyers because of their superior performance over gas engines for towing and hauling applications. But diesel costs have become too high for Super Duty buyers who don’t need maximum capability.

According the AAA, diesel fuel currently carries a 17% price premium over regular gasoline. Diesel powertrain prices have also risen over the past several years as new hardware components have been added to meet toughened federal standards for emission. A 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8 carries a $6,875 premium over a gas engine, when equipped with a manual transmission. It’s $8,385 when ordered with an automatic.  

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