When Ford unleashes an ad blitz for its new F-150 during college football bowl games, it will brag about how much the aluminum-bodied pickup can haul and tow. There will be no mention of fuel economy gains that Ford says are one of the truck’s key attributes.
Ford is working on a television commercial that touts the model’s 5 to 29 percent fuel economy improvement, which is due in part to the aluminum body that makes the 2015 F-150 as much as 700 pounds lighter than its steel predecessor, according to Chantel Lenard, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing. But that ad won’t be ready for the debut of what Ford called the “most comprehensive F-150 marketing campaign ever.”
Ford has a lot riding on the new F-150, the company’s biggest moneymaker and top seller. The $8,000 to $10,000 in gross profit each truck hauls in accounts for 90 percent of Ford’s global automotive earnings, Morgan Stanley has estimated. Deutsche Bank downgraded Ford to “hold” Dec. 14 on concern that consumers won’t pay a premium for a fuel-efficient, aluminum truck with gasoline pump prices at a 5.5-year low. Ford disputes that analysis.
“It’s not going to diminish our customers’ interest in buying a new F-150,” said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager, in a late December briefing on the new ads. “When we ask our customers what their No. 1 unmet need is, no matter what the fuel price was, it was always better fuel economy.”
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Yet truck buyers’ top priorities — needs that have been and must be met — are capability and durability, said Lenard. And that’s what is featured in three F-150 commercials that appear in the new College Football Playoff series and national championship game on Jan. 12.
The F-150 has long been built at its Kansas City assembly plant in Claycomo, which is gearing up to start production of the new aluminum-body version in 2015. The first ones are being made at Ford’s other F-150 plant, in Michigan.
Ford will start the ad campaign before many dealers have received their first new truck because the College Football Playoff is such a good fit with the interests of F-150 buyers, Scott said. As of Dec. 18, about 8,000 F-150s were in transit to dealers. Scott said more than half of Ford dealers would have one new F-150 on their lots when the ads start.
“As launches go, we’re probably advertising the new one a little bit sooner,” he said. “Normally, we would wait to break our advertising until we get to a 50-50 mix of old and new trucks, but this College Football Playoff is such an attractive property.”
It will be March or April before half of dealers’ F-150 inventory will be the 2015 model, Scott said.
Using the slogan “the future of tough,” the ads show the truck on a variety of job sites hauling big loads and towing heavy trailers. Comedian Denis Leary continues as the voice of the F-150, promoting the truck’s “high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy body, up to 700 pounds lighter, so you can haul even more.”
The introductory ads don’t mention that the weight reduction helps the truck achieve a rating from the Environmental Protection Agency of as much as 26 miles per gallon on the highway, the best of any gasoline-powered half-ton pickup on the market. That will be the focus of an ad airing early in 2015, said Mike Levine, a Ford spokesman.
“We get the fuel economy numbers toward the very end of the process when the EPA tests,” Lenard said. “It was the last spot that we were developing.”
The F-150 is the first mass market vehicle to be outfitted in aluminum, which is almost three times the price of steel and previously found mostly on luxury cars such as Jaguars. Ford raised prices on the new truck by 1.5 percent, or $395, on the base model XL, which starts at $26,615, to 7.9 percent, or $3,615, on the high-end King Ranch version, which starts at $49,460.