Truck Market: Where is it Going? How Do F-150 and Ram Stack Up?

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With two new and important full-size pickup trucks this fall, at a time of extreme economic uncertainty, what do we see happening to the market in general? And how does the F-150 stack up against the Ram? Since our correspondent Jim Hossack attended both Ford and Ram driving previews, we asked him for some comments. Here we go!

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2009 Ford F-150 XLT

What’s happening in the Full-Size Light Duty Pickup market?
Contrary to mass media reports, the full-size light duty pickup market is not dead. In fact, after a few tough months, it is coming back – in terms of share of industry if not actual number of units sold.
The auto industry is down by around 4 million units compared with 2007CY. Full-size pickup share of industry fell from 15.2 percent in August 2007 to as low as 8.6 percent on May 2008, but has rebounded to 15.8 percent in September 2008. In part that may be a reaction to fuel prices, which increased and then decreased, in part it a recent compensation for deferred purchases earlier this summer, and in part due to ridiculously low transaction prices as Dodge and Ford clear out showrooms of the old trucks. It is also worthwhile to remember that holding onto 15.8 percent of a much smaller market still means a dramatic decrease in overall F-150 sales. If and when the economy recovers, half-ton pickup sales volume will recover, depending on how drastic the next fuel price spike is.
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2009 Dodge Ram Sport


Ford has told us that the composition of the segment has changed somewhat. Within the pickup segment itself, Ford says the commercial/fleet subsegment grew by 10 percent from 2003 in 2008 (now 25 percent), while the personal tow/haul use market has declined 6 percent from 2003 to 2008 (now 44 percent). At least for Ford, the surprise here is not the decline in personal use, but the increase in commercial/fleet. Ford sees these trends even more pronounced for the F-150 than for the segment as a whole. Their take? The shift from personal use to commercial use buyers means vehicle capability is more important than ever. Though it seems like you see empty pickups on the road more than working trucks, Ford’s data says that fully 45% of light duty full-size pickups are used for towing at least monthly and fully 81% are used for hauling at least monthly.

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Hossack thinks the lesser tow rating of the Ram will be enough to hurt sales, or at least sway him to a F-150. Both are still capable of meeting most recreational towing needs.

On one hand, Ford research indicates the trucks are used for serious tasks notably, and often enough that stepping down in capability may not be an option. Ford did not indicate that their research confirmed whether the amount being towed might not require full-size pickup use. Dodge takes the view that what they’re offering will please their customers, and they do have a heavy-duty and a Dakota for either end of the spectrum.
Large crossover SUVs are capable of towing 5600 pounds, enough for some boats as well as jet skis and trailers; that is fine for many consumers. But there remain buyers needing the full capacity; for them, the F-150 gets more capability. The minimum GCWR on the Ram is a mere 8000 pounds. F-150 starts at 10,500, and if you’ve ever really looked at a truck spec chart, you quickly realize that the configuration can impact GCWR by many thousands of pounds. Ram caps out at 14,000 pounds and F-150 at 17,000 pounds. For some buyers, this discrepancy in enough to force an F-150 purchase over a Ram. Not true for all of course, but this does mean there is a crack in Ram’s armor.
One more trend of note: Ford has noted a move down from heavy-duty pickups (F-250/350) to light-duty pickups (F-150). Again, that puts an emphasis on capability. What Ford did not address is that some who didn’t need full-size F-150 capability are stepping down to smaller trucks or crossover SUVs, too. Capability is extremely important in pickup segments, but those buyers are as susceptible of re-evaluation of the risk-cost-benefit analysis as others. Pickup buyers might need more incentive to accept a less capable Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, or Chevrolet Colorado, but some will no doubt discover that their real-world needs can be met by these smaller products.
Bottom line: As the market shifts in terms of demand volume, capability and capacity are no less important than in the days when everyone wanted a cool F-150 crew cab to tool around in. Those that stay in the heavy-duty or light-duty segments will stay because they truly need the capability, so dumbing down these trucks really isn’t an option. Like it or not, Ram 1500 can’t match F-150.
How does the ’09 F-150 compare with the ’09 Ram?
Exterior and interior styling is a matter of personal opinion, and Hossack found both of these entries to have merits and appeal. Ram’s interior is probably the best from the Chrysler Group in recent memory, and F-150 has continued Ford’s recent interior renaissance. Hossack prefers the Ram exterior and F-150 interior. Dodge has gone with a coil spring rear suspension for better rough road ride. But Hossack didn’t find the rough road ride any better than that of the 2009 F-150. Of course, it must be noted that both drives were on relatively smooth and controlled road situations. We haven’t had either truck over California expansion joints or Michigan frost-heaved and pot-hole-filled roads.
Ford has put more emphasis on trailer-tow capacity and hauling capacity, resulting in a clear brochure-war winner they believe will translate into sales. Dodge says half-ton buyers rarely use the maximum trailer tow capacity anyway, so it just doesn’t matter. Well…maybe. It matters to our RV-hauler Hossack. It matters in the brochure war. And the sharp Ford truck salesman will see to it that it matters in the showroom. The fact that Ford offers an integrated trailer brake controller (as opposed to the aftermarket Velcro-attached one in the Dodge) was also noted important to Hossack’s recreational plans.
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Dodge RamBox

Dodge has that clever RamBox – but at $1,895 and being offered in specific configurations, we’re not sure there will be many takers. Hossack would rather have the Ford step and pole assist system for far less money.
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All in all, Hossak found there isn’t much he’d do with one truck that he couldn’t or wouldn’t do with the other. But one has to win, and he picks F-150.

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