|Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive News.|
In 1938, an upstart horse named Seabiscuit shocked the world when it absolutely destroyed one of the best-bred horses that ever lived, the menacingly-named War Admiral, in a special one-on-one race.
The race only happened because the owner of War Admiral, Samuel Riddle, was baited into the challenge. Had he not responded, War Admiral's record might have remained unblemished.
This tale came to mind this week as I opened a favorite magazine to spot another established champ chomp down hard on the bait of a rival.
Ford Motor Co. -- whose absolute dominance of the profit-producing pickup segment is now measured in geological terms -- threw a hard elbow at the rival Ram 1500 and its claim of best-in-class 25 mpg highway fuel economy.
The Blue Oval's marketing campaign doesn't mention the Chrysler Group offering by name, but delivers a stiff jab to an area where the Ram 1500 lags the F-150.
"Fuel economy without power is like fishin' without bait," Ford's new print ad ironically exclaims next to a whale-sized empty fishhook.
The ad touts what it says in small letters is the F-150s "best combination of towing and fuel economy" at 11,300 lbs. and 22 mpg highway. I'm not sure what the SAE rule is for adding two categories and comparing the sum. Does it mean a competitor has to add these two numbers and come up with more than 11,322 to beat Ford?
The 4x2 Ram 1500, which does best the comparably-equipped V-6 4x2 F-150 in highway fuel economy at 25 mpg, falters in the comparison with a maximum towing capacity of 6,500 lbs. So Ram's print ads tout -- you guessed it -- their pickup's 25 mpg.
The pickup segment is the most important for domestic automakers since it weighs so heavily on profits. Ford, GM, and Chrysler have fought a pickup war for decades, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, because of this fact. GM's new pickups come out next year, and it's also been almost two decades since any of the three changed their respective positions in the segment.
But these ads show me that Ford, like War Admiral, knows well that its competitors want a shot at its dominant position. The only question is whether the Blue Oval will be baited into giving them the opportunity.