The pickup truck war of 2016 is getting serious

Ford NFL Times SquareFordFord has hooked up with the NFL.

The US auto market has been booming, setting sales records. But it now looks as if the market is plateauing.

Not a bad thing, if the plateau is at around 17 million in annual new vehicle sales. And even better if you’re a US automaker selling full-size pickup trucks, highly profitable machines that tend to lead the sales charts year after year in America — and that really take off when gas prices are low, as they are now.

Ford’s F-150 pickup has long been the bestselling vehicle in the US, but General Motors’ Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, in combination, are often a close second. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has its own players, the Ram 1500.

This segment is insanely competitive because once you commit to a brand as a truck owner, you tend to stick with that brand. Like, forever, like, until they drive your coffin to the ancestral burial ground in the bed of your truck.

There’s usually a low-grade truck war going on most of the time, but when sales are at historic levels, the intensity picks up.

The stakes are even higher these days because higher federal fuel-economy standards are forcing automakers to reconsider their basic truck formula — big V8 engine plus old-school steel construction — in favour of more economical (but no less powerful) engine, such as turbocharged V6’s, and lightweight aluminium construction.

Ford took the plunge with the mighty F-150, adding EcoBoost turbos to the lineup and revamping the design with the use of aluminium. The results were good, and although there were some sales hiccups earlier this year due to the production ramp-up, the F-150 continues its reign at the top.

Chevy and GMC are also selling plenty of pickups, and its a sign of GM’s confidence that it can greenlight smack-talking TV commercials calling into question the robustness of the new aluminium F-150. This might look nasty from the outside, but trust me, it’s a good thing.

Are you ready for some football?

Ford NFL Truck LineupFordThe Ford truck lineup.

Crossbranding is also taking on new significance. Ford just announced that the F-Series has become the official truck of the NFL, just as the 2016-17 season prepare to, um, kickoff.

“The NFL is America’s favourite sport,” Mark LaNeve, Ford’s US marketing vice-president, said.

“NFL fans appreciate how tough, smart and capable NFL players are — just like Ford F-Series, America’s favourite trucks.”

LaNeve also addressed the skirmishing that’s developed with its Detroit rival, Chevy, mustering some big numbers.

“The numbers speak for themselves. July F-Series sales of 65,657 were the best since 2005. Through July, F-Series have outsold Silverado by 133,133 units.”

GMC, of course, has helped GM even out that imbalance (and the the Chevy Colorado has single-handedly revived the smaller pickup segment). But it’s undeniable that Ford pickups are continuing their sales-leading legacy.

And that’s not a surprise, especially to GM. But in the current market, the major-league figures that the Detroit Big Three are posting with pickups represent a major opportunity. For a lot of customers, now is the time to buy a new truck — particularly heading into the end of the year.

There’s rarely been a better time for Ford, GM, and FCA to push their meat-and-potatoes pickups and push them hard.

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