Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Spoils of Truck Wars Go To Loyal Buyers

October 2006, by Chris Brown, Managing Editor

General Motor’s and Ford’s much publi-cized image problems are producing real benefits for the fleet customer, especially the work-truck buyer. In an effort to address a perceived quality gap with Japanese manufacturers, GM recently upped its powertrain warranty to five years or 100,000 miles with no deductible, and they’re fully transferable. This comes after Ford raised the pot in July by extend-ing its powertrain warranties by up to two years on 2007 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models. It’s amazing to think that an automaker could nearly double its warranty in one fell swoop—the days of the two-year/24,000-mile warranty are not that long ago. While the fickle consumer may be trading in the behemoth domestic SUV for a Japanese crossover to traverse the mall parking lot jungle, the work truck buyer has the same needs to tow and haul as always. The work truck guy would’ve been buying Ford or GM even if the two manufacturers had diversified into motorized skateboards. Yet he’s the one who will be taking advan-tage of that 100,000-mile warranty, not the average consumer who would’ve traded in his or her sedan miles before. The full-size pickup segment is also benefiting. Toyota fired the first shot in the recent full-size pickup war in February when it announced the 2007 Tundra. The super-sized workhorse is now 10 inches longer, five inches taller, and four inches wider than the current model, and payload capac-ity has swelled to more than 10,000 lbs. Crossing the 10,000-lbs payload thresh-old was a big deal until GM introduced the 2007 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra in August. As its highest volume product (GM sold 935,000 full-size pickups sold in 2005) GM knows the success of its new generation of trucks is crucial. To underscore the ur-gency, GM pulled the entire pickup pro-gram forward 13 weeks. The full line will be launched in five months, while last gen-eration’s rollout took two years.With a payload of 10,500 lbs, the new GMT900 platform full-size pickups also offer eight powertrain combinations, five suspension packages, three box lengths and two distinct interiors, while delivering a combined 20 miles-per-gallon fuel econ-omy on its 300 plus-horsepower engines.Of course Ford couldn’t afford to sit still. Though the F-150 underwent a major redesign in 2004, Ford upped its payload capac-ity for 2007 to 10,500 lbs, matching GM, and added 600 lbs towing capacity. And it lowered sticker prices on all trim levels, by as much as $1,400.Ford is also introducing a new clean-burning diesel engine that will produce more horsepower, better fuel economy and a quieter ride than its predecessor.When the Nissan Titan arrived in 2004 was impressed enough to crown it the best full-size truck. Not much happened to the Titan this year, save for a slight horsepower bump, though apparently Nissan is planning a heavy-duty version of the Titan to compete with the domestic HD’s. And now Dodge is charging back into the commercial arena with the 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Chassis Cab, looking to gouge a chunk out of the market owned by Ford and GM. Dodge says the new Ram Chassis Cab has the highest single-rear-wheel GVWR of 10,200 lbs. in its class, best rear frame steel strength (50,000 psi), largest standard fuel tank (52 gallons), best-in-class standard V-8 power (HEMI with 330 horsepower) and best-in-class interior cab room of 121.7 cubic feet for Quad Cab models. It starts at $22,535. The gauntlet is laid.It’s ironic that the domestics are scram-bling to pump value into its products to help change a perception of poor quality. In reality that quality gap is pretty small or nonexistent. Foreign makes such as Volkswagen and Land Rover fair poorly in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study—and yet these nameplates seem to erase quality issues with innovative marketing campaigns. Ask the 28-year-old urban loft aspiring account executive if he knows Buick, Lincoln and Mercury are traditionally near the top of this and other quality surveys and you’d get a blank stare.I’m sure any work truck buyer is happy to put up with a great product and misguided marketing, especially if it results in tangible benefits such as an unbeatable warranty. Makes one wistful for the “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign.
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