Now that Ford has unveiled the next-generation F-150, Canadian auto makers are gearing up for a bruising full-size pickup showdown.
By the time the new F-150 arrives late this year, it will go up against relatively fresh offerings from GM and Chrysler.
The popularity of Ford's F-Series pickup truck – it's the best-selling vehicle in both Canada and the United States – astounds even auto industry watcher Dennis DesRosiers. Across North America, Ford sold almost a million F-Series pickup trucks last year (885,727 officially in Canada and the United States combined), which is more than the combined North American sales of all other car companies except GM, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda, he said (plus Hyundai/Kia and Nissan, sales figures suggest).
"Ford didn't depend on fleet sales or (huge) incentives to push F-150 sales," said DesRosiers, of the common tactics used to boost pickup sales numbers. "Those (122,325 in 2013 in Canada) were real sales," he said at the Detroit auto show last month, where Ford publicly revealed its upcoming lighter and more fuel efficient 2015 F-150.
DesRosiers also said that GM and Chrysler full-size pickup sales continue to be hurt by the many smaller dealerships that closed in Canada following the fall into bankruptcy protection by both auto makers. Many of these dealerships were small "ma and pa" dealers in rural areas, and Ford did a good job going into those areas with a "you can depend on us" message, said DesRosiers.
However, GM Canada president Kevin Williams isn't ready to concede either point.
"I'm not sure if I agree with Dennis' perspective on it," said Williams. "The question I always ask is whether they're going to be sold at fleets or retail – we want to be the retail leader," he said, hinting that many of Ford's F-150 sales were less-profitable fleet sales.
Sales of GM's two full-size pickup trucks totalled 84,398 in 2013, or only about two-thirds of what the F-150 garnered. The GMC Sierra was the third best-selling vehicle in the country, and though GM reports sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and slightly upscale GMC Sierra separately, that combined figure would be enough for GM's pickups to leapfrog the second best-selling vehicle, the Ram 1500 pickup.
Yes, Canadians continue to buy pickups in droves, with sales from Ford, Chrysler and GM's full-size workhorses dwarfing the Honda Civic, Canada's best-selling car for 16 years. Full-size pickups are also one of the most profitable vehicle types for North American car makers, and one of the few segments where traditional Detroit-based brands still dominate.
But Williams also said that incentives and corporate strategy also played a major factor in the F-150's success. "The other factor that has to be taken into consideration is at what prices do those vehicles sell at?" he asked. "Some (dealers) carried long inventory of 2013 model pickups, with a blunting strategy" designed to pull forward sales that would help carry the dealers through the year, when the changeover at F-150 factories to the new model will affect production, he said.
GM did pull back on its incentives when it introduced more modern versions of its full-size pickups last year, said Josh Bailey, vice president of research for Canadian Black Book, which tracks incentives on new vehicles to valuate future used vehicle pricing. He says it's surprising sales of the outgoing iteration of the F-150 held up so well in its last year of production, but doesn't see rebates as a huge factor.
"I haven't noticed one (company) that has really stood out (with more rebates)," said Bailey. "GM had backed off incentives when they introduced newer models, but are fully back in the game now, even on the new ones."
For buyers, 2014 will be the year when the main pickup players all have relatively new full-size pickups to offer, a rare symmetry for vehicles with traditionally long product cycles. For Williams, it also marks the start of a Canadian pickup sales showdown.
"As we go into 2014, then we should really see how the true market shakes out."
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