American truckers: Fierce competition has domestic pickups facing off grille to grille
BY KIRK BELL For Sun-Times Media February 11, 2013 11:21AM
The 2014 Silverado, is a full-size pickup that is all-new from hood to hitch. Among the many updates for 2014 are dramatic new designs inside and out and a trio of powerful, efficient EcoTec3 V-6 and V-8 engines.
Updated: March 5, 2013 10:30AM
Despite high gas prices, full-size pickups are still hot sellers, with 1.6 million sales, and an overall increase of about 9 percent. Domestic pickup trucks accounted for more than 90 percent of those sales, clearly demonstrating when it comes to workhorse pickups, American buyers prefer domestic brands.
With so many sales at stake, all of the domestic automakers have invested plenty of money into updating and improving their trucks.
Here’s a look at the domestic pickup kings’ 2012 sales, and their product outlook:
Ram (formerly Dodge) always has been the underdog in the domestic pickup wars, consistently finishing third behind Ford and Chevrolet. Yet the brand has made some important strides along the way. The “big rig” styling introduced in 1994 and continued to this day changed how pickups look.
The Ram 1500s 2009 redesign added refinement not previously seen in pickups thanks to a smoother riding coil spring suspension, and included the unique RamBox storage system with cargo space in the bed rails. Ram upped the ante considerably in 2012 by introducing the 2013 Ram, which is, in our opinion, the most refined pickup on the market.
“We made a ton of improvements when we launched the truck in ‘09, but we knew no one else was going to stand still,” said Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram brand. So Ram improved its pickup after a short five-model year cycle, and the new Ram is much better.
The 2013 Ram 1500 went on sale in October, and the new design helped Ram post a 20 percent year-over-year sales increase, the biggest in the industry by far. Ram also gained 1.9 percent of market share for a total of 18.2 percent.
While Ram and Ford have updated their trucks in the past few years, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which are essentially the same truck, haven’t been redesigned since 2007, with little improvement along the way.
Despite being the same for years, both pickups sold well in 2012, but they lost ground to the competition. Sales of the Silverado rose only 0.8 percent and it lost 2.1 percent of market share, dropping to 25.5 percent. The Sierra fared better. Sales were up 5.4 percent and it lost only 0.3 percent market share to finish at 9.5 percent.
The good news is GM showed the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra at last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The new trucks, which are due this summer, look like they will address several of the current models’ issues.
“Our goal was to create the best engineered truck from hood to hitch,” said Maria Rohrer, director of marketing for Chevy trucks.
The F-Series is the king of the truck market for good reason. Ford redesigned the F-150 in 2009, and revamped the entire engine lineup for the 2011 model year. The star of the engine lineup is the EcoBoost 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 that many believe is the best full-size half-ton pickup engine, even besting the available V8s.
Keeping the F-Series fresh paid off with some 645,316 sales in 2012, up 10.3 percent from 2011. The truck also gained 0.4 percent market share to 39.4 percent.
Ford revealed the Atlas Concept vehicle recently, which points to a possible design direction for the next F-150. “With 36 years as America’s best-selling pickup, we are absolutely committed to setting the agenda in the truck market,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, global product development.
The Atlas is an attractive, brawny truck with the next generation of the EcoBoost V6 engine.
A bright future
Most forecasts predict light vehicle sales to top 15 million units in 2013, which will almost certainly mean more truck sales. All of the automakers we spoke to said they are starting to see an increase in housing starts, which also translates to increased pickup sales. Customers will benefit, too. When they hit their dealers, especially after GM releases its pickups, they will choose among the best pickups America ever has offered.