In Bid To Stem Hemorrhage, Ford Brings Back Employee Pricing

Ford F seriesFord hopes to at least temporarily reverse the truck exodus this month with a tactic the Dearborn, Mich. automaker first used in 2005 (along with GM and Chrysler): employee pricing. Basically, Ford will offer its trucks to U.S. consumers for the same price it charges people who work for the company. The deal is in addition to current incentives on the vehicles.

The program, which began this week, runs through June 30 on the 2008 model year F-Series, including F-150, F-250 and F-350. Ford will back the move with print, television, radio and Internet ads and POP. The campaign features employees who build Ford F-Series pickups.

The company is supporting the campaign with point-of-purchase materials for 2008 models F-Series outlining the MSRP, the employee discount and rebates.

Last month, Ford sold 42,973 trucks, a 30.6% plunge versus the month last year. Since January, F-Series sales are off 18.7%. The company is not alone. Sales of GM's Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups were down 42% and 31.4% respectively. Sales of Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Titan were off 27%, 34% and 57% last month, respectively. All told, may saw a 101,508-unit drop in pickup sales.



For perspective, Honda saw its best-ever sales month last month when it sold 53,299 Civics, a 28.3% increase. Kia, Subaru, Hyundai and Mercedes also posted best-ever months in May.

Analysts say that although pickups have been shielded from gasoline woes because a lot of buyers can't use anything else, another big slice of the consumer pie are image buyers. These so-called "urban cowboys" have bought crew-cab versions that can double as family haulers, stylized "image" versions, and a huge array of variants, including luxury versions. Ford, for example, claims to have some 60 F-150 models, including the well-known Harley-Davidson version and this year's Lariat Limited.

Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore., says those style buyers are precisely the ones leaving in droves. "That's 30% of the market, and that's where you are seeing all of it disappearing," he says, adding that there are five kinds of pickup buyers: the aforementioned "urban cowboy"; contractors who, per Spinella, are actually returning to the pickup market; farmers and ranchers "who never left,"; and rental fleets. "For Ford, style and premium trucks have been a strong suit," he says.

John Casesa, managing partner of the N.Y.-based Casesa Shapiro Group LLC, says even die-hards are departing pickups. "There's a scarcity right now of all types of buyers--from contractors to weekend warriors. The utility-driven buyers will come back with a rebound in housing and the economy, but I don't expect as many discretionary buyers to return if gas prices stay high."

Last month, for the first time, Toyota began offering national annual-percentage-rate deals on pre-owned Tundras and Sequoia SUV. Chrysler has extended for a month its cross-brand deal offering consumers three years worth of $2.99 gasoline with the purchase of many vehicles.

Spinella says GM won't follow Ford because it is already heavily incentivizing its pickups. A GM spokesperson agreed, saying the company has no plans to match Ford. "We'll look at it, but we think our incentives are competitive. We will gauge the market and keep fighting, but we have no plans to follow Ford at this time."

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