26 May 2010

Sales of Ford F-Series, Ram, GMC Sierra Trucks Pick Up

USA Today

New versions of big, bad, politically incorrect heavy-duty pickups have starring roles in the Detroit automakers' sales and profit comeback.

Chrysler recently touted the role that its heavy-duty Ram played in improving its first-quarter finances. Ford Motor cited its new F-Series Super Duty pickup as a sales standout last month. And General Motors has high hopes for revised heavy-duty versions of its sibling 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD due this summer.

The sales increases, in fact, are a good omen not just for automakers, but for the economy overall.

Heavy-duty, full-size pickups are typically bought by small businesses and individuals as working trucks. The sales strength is a sign that construction, farming and other key industries are rebounding strongly enough that people have enough confidence to invest in new vehicles.

"Those purchases are made by people who work and need a truck," says GM spokesman Tom Henderson.

The increased capability of the heavy-duties makes them more expensive than light-duty pickups — and more profitable for automakers. A new Ford F-150 light-duty pickup goes for as little as $21,820, but the brawny Super Duty starts at $28,020 before destination charges.

So it's no wonder a segment that was an afterthought awhile back now is in the spotlight. Chrysler says its Ram Heavy Duty sales rose 13% in April compared with a year ago. Ford said it sold twice as many Super Duty pickups last month as it expected — and year-to-date sales through April were up 30% from a year ago.

A common boast for the new heavies: More power plus improved fuel mileage from the big gas and diesel engines. GMC, for example, says the optional 6.6-liter turbodiesel in the Sierra HD will offer 397 horsepower, 30 hp more than Ford's rival Super Duty, along with 11% better fuel economy than the outgoing GMC model.

"It's a more competitive segment," says Mike Levine, editor of PickupTrucks.com. "It's about capability and who can tow and haul the most."

The rivalry, he says, also has held prices in check — for working buyers who eschew the luxury versions or a lot of features that run up the sticker price. For the most part, "You don't haul your ego with these trucks," Levine says.

But makers also know there's a market for upscale versions with the horse-ranch crowd and others. The Ford F-250 King Ranch, for instance, with such touches as power leather seats, is priced at $45,715.

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