Trucks, baby. There hasn't been this much going on in the pickup truck business for years. You have the new aluminum body Ford F-150, Chevrolet's killer mid-sized pickups including a diesel version of the Colorado introduced in Los Angeles last week, and Ram, which has been on a growth boom, partly because of its own diesel 1500.
And the full-size segment has been on a roll, notes investment bank Sterne Agee, in a new report. The firm says the improving economy, reduced capacity, lower incentives, higher transaction prices, and new products should help propel the category going forward. Pickups sales are up 5.2% through October, and heading toward 2.4 million by year's end, the highest total since 2007.
The firm says that, since 1995, full-sized pickup trucks have accounted for 12.7% of the total light vehicle market, with the Detroit Three accounting for 93% of the segment, and Ford and GM accounting for 73% of the segment last year. Ford, Chrysler's Ram, and GM account for 92.4% of the segment. So the news is particularly good in Detroit.
The buzz monster, at least this model cycle, is the new 2015 F-150, which goes on sale next month. Ford has spent months now talking up the product's capability and revolutionary body constitution, an effort to reassure prospects — including loyalists — that the lighter truck loses nothing in capability and strength because the all-important ladder frame is still steel. Digital content from Ford has been focused mostly on hauling capacity and Built Ford Tough-ness. The company even used Halloween as an opportunity to show a “Happy Haul-o-Ween” emblazoned ’15 F-150 hauling an incredibly large mutant, 1,200-pound pumpkin.
I spoke to Jim Farley a couple of months back when he was head of North American marketing (now he’s president of the company's European operations). He told me the long lead-up to the launch has been about combining testing with content: "We wanted to take make sure people understand that F-150 is being evaluated by a very critical audience of thousands of people." Ford did a blind test, building prototypes designed to look just like the late model, but with the new aluminum body. "Nobody could tell."
And Ford then filmed these loyal owners of F-Series trucks, such as a cattle rancher in Montana, using the new one and threw that content on its social sites like YouTube.
The bigger picture, said Farley, was to kind of stagger the conversation over time to avoid drowning people in content about the truck over a short period. "We have been talking about certain aspects at certain times leading up to the launch, just to get the information out there in way that people can digest and understand, in a way that's realistic for them to consume. If we talk about everything all at once, it's a little overwhelming."
He made another interesting point about the truck: how often do you get to bring a vehicle to market that has created its own consideration and buzz? Skepticism is a good thing, it builds curiosity and the good kind of notoriety. Aluminum on a pickup truck? Isn't that sacrilege? Won't they run you out of Texas on a ladder frame for that?
Said Farley, "It's going to be an interesting breakthrough marketing opportunity because not too many times do you run into a vehicle with so much early consideration. People know about it already, and now they are wanting to want to go see it. Never in my marketing career have I seen a product with that much buzz, that much natural word of mouth, that much curiosity about it. Sure, you get it in niche products more, like a Tesla, but to get it in a mainstream product that everyone can own, that comes along once in a lifetime."