Sometime around 2002, I was part of a group of journalists that General Motors allowed into a “war room” dedicated to environmental issues. A pie chart on the wall caught my eye; it showed the profit generated by GM’s vehicle platforms. What was striking was that the full-size truck platform accounted for roughly half of total profits.
At the time, I was new on the GM beat. That chart gave me an instant education. Flashy performance cars at big auto shows impress onlookers. So do proclamations about the imminence of autonomous vehicles. But trucks are where the profits are.
With that in mind, keep an eye on two clashes set to play out in the truck market.
The first is the continuing split over use of aluminum in pickups. Ford took a bold step in 2014 when it switched the body of its F-150 to aluminum from steel. Ford executed this incredibly involved design-and-manufacturing challenge without losing sales leadership.
But in January, GM and Fiat Chrysler stuck with steel bodies for the full-size pickups they showed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. At the Chevrolet Silverado debut, GM product chief Mark Reuss made a point of knocking aluminum pickup beds, which GM has pilloried in commercials that involved dropping concrete blocks and tool boxes into an F-150 bed and showing the resulting gouges to “real people.”
So expect more ads belittling aluminum trucks. But remember, the attacks haven’t dented Ford’s sales leadership.