Everybody wants to know if the launch of Ford’s 2015 F-150 pickup is a success, and for good reason.
Huge volume. Huge profits. Aluminum body. New manufacturing processes. Tricky factory makeovers.
In the U.S. auto industry, this is high drama, indeed.
Ford, for its part, is playing up early results. CFO Bob Shanks said last week after the release of the company’s fourth-quarter earnings that F-150s are “flying off the lots.” Shanks added that F-150 “mix is extremely rich. Pricing is very, very healthy.”
And when Ford announced plans this week to hire 1,550 workers at four U.S. plants that support F-150 output, it cited “stronger than expected demand” and 12-days-to-turn retail performance in January.
You can’t blame Ford for cheerleading its most important product. But the reality is that we don’t know how successful the F-150 launch is, and we won’t know for months.
Ford retooled its Dearborn, Mich., assembly plant for the launch. The second F-150 plant, in Kansas City, has been undergoing retooling. Retailers say they won’t be fully stocked with F-150s until spring -- which means that quick sales right now, at least in part, reflect short supply.
Even when the plants are ramped up, it will take a while to assess demand. The F-150 is one of two vehicles at Ford with a posse of fervent enthusiasts who rush to get new ones (Mustang is the other). That surge has to blow through the system before ongoing demand is clear.
So maybe sometime this summer you can sift through pricing and incentives, sales volume, dealer inventories and quality -- as in the absence of recalls -- to get a realistic take on the launch.
I don’t mean to kill the buzz. Ford is a fearsome truck competitor, and there’s every reason to expect the F-150 to remain the top-selling U.S. truck. But for this ground-breaking pickup, it’s still early days.