The seeds of success for Ford's F-series pickup were planted long before the vehicle's debut on Jan. 16, 1948.
Henry Ford's roots in agriculture as well as the company's ability to read consumers' needs and deliver the goods helped position the F series for its long run at the top of the sales charts.
The F series is the best-selling vehicle, foreign or domestic, in history. With more than 28 million sold since the nameplate's introduction, the truck has earned the title of America's workhorse. The F series has been America's top-selling truck for 26 straight years and the No. 1 nameplate for 21 years.
The F series rings up huge profit for Ford. With an average gross of about $6,000, and sales of more than 800,000 per year, plus profit from parts sales, the truck puts about $5.5 billion in annual profit in Ford's till.
The early days
Henry Ford grew up on a farm and detested his daily chores. He thought that the amount of physical labor required to run a farm was not justified by the low profit it yielded.
Ford set out to change that by offering farmers and ranchers vehicles that could do some of their manual labor.
The next push was to establish dealerships in rural areas and make the Model T easy to buy.
By the Teens, Ford had about 7,000 dealerships in the United States, more than all other automakers combined.
That early effort to establish Ford in rural areas is still paying off, says Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore.
"There's a lot of loyalty to the Ford brand in rural areas," he says. "Ford owns 75 percent of the market with the F-150 and F-250. They dominate Chevrolet and GMC in many cases."
Innovations hike sales
In addition to farmers and ranchers, contractors have made the F series a favorite.
In 1948, Ford spent heavily to develop the new "Bonus Built" F series with its "Million Dollar Cab." Ford ads promoted the truck by citing statistics showing that buyers could expect it to last 10 years. The company sold 181,403
F-series trucks in 1948, more trucks than any year since 1929, according to the automaker.
The booming post-World War II economy boosted the sales of all automakers. But Ford wasn't seeking just short-term gains. Henry Ford II and his Whiz Kids set a goal in 1946 of snatching truck sales leadership from Chevrolet. But Ford didn't meet that target right away. Chevy kept the truck sales crown until the early 1970s.
No one at Ford is sure who is responsible for the original F-series styling. More than likely it was Eugene "Bob" Gregorie, Ford's first design chief, says retired Ford engineer Jim Wagner, of Plymouth, Mich., author of the book, Ford Trucks Since 1905.
Gregorie left Ford in 1946, but Wagner says the 1948 F series was well under way by that time. The styling of the 1948 model was a complete break from the past. More importantly, Ford recognized that consumers wanted more comfort. Ford designers paid extra attention to the seats, which had more padding and a separate adjustable backrest; the ventilation system, and the wide-opening doors.
The 1948 F series set the stage for Ford's sales leadership.
Only four times since 1970 - 1973-76 - has rival Chevrolet sold more full-sized pickups in a year than Ford, according to Ford records.
"Ford was first to recognize the importance of the personal-use truck before the General," Wagner says. "We actually starting marching to it a little earlier when camper specials came out in 1965."
In recent years, the sales race has not been close. In 2002, the Ford F series outsold Chevrolet's C/K and Silverado, 813,701 to 652,646. In 2001, Ford rang up a record 911,597 F-series sales vs. Chevy's 716,051.
The F series has even managed to gain market share in the face of tough competition from Toyota, which entered the full-sized pickup market in late 1999 with the Tundra.
How Ford does it
Alan Hall, general manager of Ron Carter Autoland in Alvin, Texas, which sells both Ford and Chevrolet trucks, says aggressive marketing is one reason Ford wins the yearly sales battle.
Using a combination of incentives and advertising, Ford "outspends GM by at least 20 percent," Hall says. "The F series is the less-cost truck. When you try to compare the trucks, Ford will come in cheaper every single time."
Few long-time Ford and Chevrolet truck owners cross-shop the two brands, Hall says. There may be some switching of brands, he says, but it doesn't last.
"The two trucks drive completely different. Neither one is wrong. But to a Ford buyer, a Chevrolet truck just doesn't feel right."
Even though the full-sized truck market will become more competitive in October with the V-8-powered Nissan Titan, Ford likely won't lose its sales crown anytime soon.
"Ford has never let its customers down in terms of quality," Spinella says. "The F series has always been exactly what Ford has advertised."