– Twenty-five straight months of year-over-year sales growth for the commercial sub-segment of Class 4-8 vehicles has helped boost Ford Motor Company’s commercial truck fleet business.
“The commercial truck business is a reliable barometer for the economy at large,” said Joe Castelli, director Ford Division Commercial Vehicles. “After 9-11, commercial business sales fell off considerably, but it's a cyclical business – even more so than the retail sector – and we expect the boom to continue.”
According to Mike Antich, editor of Automotive Fleet
magazine, there are three key reasons why commercial truck sales have been on an upward trajectory for the past two years. “What’s driving these production increases are a stronger business environment, pre-buying to avoid the upcoming 2007 EPA diesel emission standards, and the need to replace older trucks as a result of deferred purchasing from prior years,” said Antich.
Ford Division Commercial Vehicles’ product blend includes Class 4 through Class 7 trucks such as the Super Duty F-450 and F-550, medium-duty F650 and F750 trucks, E-Series vans, and a new line of Class 4-5 cab-over trucks called LCF (low cab forward). These mostly diesel vehicles are used for a variety of commercial activities including parcel and delivery, construction, utility and landscaping.
E-Series sales are up over 7 percent for 2005. Super Duty Chassis Cab sales are up 6 percent. Medium-duty sales are up 10 percent.
Not only are sales strong, so is market share. Commercial Super Duty Chassis Cabs command a whopping 65 to 70 percent thanks to class leading capability and a strong brand loyalty despite the influx of new competition. The E-Series is holding tough at 50 percent for the third year in a row. And medium-duty trucks stand at 14 percent competing in a crowded segment that includes not only Chevy and Dodge but also heavy hitters like Freightliner and International.
“Only two years ago we were in single digits in the medium-duty segment and last year our truck was the fastest growing conventional truck in the entire commercial industry,” Castelli said.
“One reason why medium-duty sales continue to be strong is the nationwide shortage of truck drivers, especially those with commercial drivers license (CDL)," Antich said. "A solution for some fleets has been to order trucks under 26,000 pounds GVW since they do not require a CDL to operate."
“This year we’ve made big in-roads into the beverage industry,” Castelli said. “We finally had the right specs in our medium truck line to win the business.”
Overall, Ford’s commercial truck market share is 40 percent, which means that two out of five commercial trucks have a blue oval on it.
“The commercial business is like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle,” Castelli said, “and though each piece isn’t big, they add up.”
Castelli said the brand new LCF line is attracting new customers. The LCF is favored by companies operating in urban areas where its tight turning radius and maneuverability are keys to its early success. The LCF is built alongside the F-650 and F-750 by Ford’s joint venture between Ford and International, Blue Diamond.
“Our Blue Diamond vehicles are doing very well and we’re gaining market share with them,” Castelli said, adding that Ford also relies on International, Cummins and Caterpillar to supply three different powertrains for its medium-duty trucks.
The next 12 to 13 months stand to be as strong as or stronger than the past two years, Castelli added. That’s because commercial truck fleets are expected to stock up before new emissions regulations go into effect in 2007. While Castelli sees the potential for sales to drop off in 2007, he assures that Ford is looking to refine its product line to meet or exceed the new emissions requirements.
“We’re looking at what kinds of treatments our engines need to cut back on emissions,” Castelli said, adding that Ford Product Development must work closely with its joint venture engine suppliers to make sure that their solutions fit Ford’s product packaging. The solutions are expected to add cost to the vehicles that will get passed on to the customer, but Castelli is confident that Ford’s commercial truck customers and the industry will adapt to the change.
“Look at airbag technology,” Castelli said. “Years ago, no one wanted to put that extra cost on the window sticker, but now we not only expect to see it, we’ve learned to accept it and appreciate the value added.”