Chevy escalates Silverado advertising battle with Ford F-150
DETROIT -- Chevrolet is escalating its truck battle with Ford through a provocative advertising campaign that claims the Silverado pickup’s steel bed is more durable than the F-150’s stamped aluminum bed.
In the start of a major sales and marketing offensive, Chevy released a batch of new videos overnight that show the Silverado’s roll-formed steel bed sustaining only superficial damage when subjected to various construction-site poundings, while the same tests punctured and cracked the F-150’s bed.
The tests were conducted without a bed liner.
Chevy plans an ad blitz starting today that will run 30- and 60-second commercials on ESPN, NASCAR programming, the NHL finals, Major League Baseball and more. It will also run longer versions in 2,400 movie theaters nationally. Print ads are slated for most major markets in Texas, a strategic state for pickup truck sales and marketing. A four-page wraparound add also appeared in Detroit's newspapers today.
One video shows front loaders dumping 825 pounds of landscaping stones into the beds of the Silverado and F-150. In a press release, Chevy claims that in 12 straight demonstrations, the F-150’s bed cracked, while the Silverado exhibited only scratches and dents. The video, shot in Chevy’s long-running “Real People, Not Actors” campaign format, features several truck owners clambering onto the pickups’ beds to survey the damage.
“I’m surprised they’re trying to put a product out like this, ya know, and they’re supposed to sell ‘Ford Tough,’” remarks one. Another chimes in: “I think Ford needs to change their motto.”
Joules in the rough
Chevy said in the release that engineers used a 17-pound wedge-shaped striker to scientifically test the strength of each pickups bed. It says the Silverado withstood 90 joules of impact energy without cracking, while Ford’s aluminum bed floor “exhibited hairline cracks at just 30 joules, and was completely punctured at 40 joules.”
A joule is a form of energy measurement equal to moving a small object, such as an apple, about one meter in one second, or .24 of a calorie, according to several online definitions.
In response to the campaign, a Ford spokesman released this statement today:
"When you're the market leader for 39 years, competitors sometimes try to take shots at you with marketing stunts. The fact remains that F-150's high-strength, military grade, aluminum alloy cargo box offers the best combination of strength, durability, corrosion resistance, capability, safety and fuel efficiency ever offered in a pickup. We have built nearly a million new F-150s, and our lead over the competition continues to grow."
Chevrolet truck marketing manager Sandor Piszar told reporters on a conference call that the campaign is not “targeting Ford directly,” but merely pointing out what GM believes is a competitive advantage.
“It’s not an attack on Ford. It’s not an attack on aluminum,” Piszar said. “It’s us showing that we have a better choice for customers in the highly competitive truck segment.”
He said the tests were done without a bed liner because many people buy their pickups that way. He said half of Silverado customers “leave the dealership without any form of bed protection.”
Ford spokesman Mike Levine said just 17 percent of F-150s are sold with a spray-in bed liner.
On the same conference call, Mark Voss, a GM engineering group manager for truck body structures, said the choice of roll-formed, high-strength steel was aimed at “putting the right material in the right application.” He declined to answer whether GM would continue to use steel for the bed in its next-generation Silverado and GMC Sierra, expected to arrive in 2018. But he wouldn’t rule out the use of aluminum if it could meet GM’s specifications.
“We’re continuing to evaluate any new materials as long as they exceed the performance of a high-strength, rolled-form steel bed. We’d consider it,” Voss said.
Chevy said the campaign "is a dramatic example of Chevrolet engineers’ work to select the right material, enabled by the right manufacturing processes, for the right application."
It’s also a dramatic escalation of the war between the two biggest pickup brands, which have gone after each in marketing campaigns intermittently for years as they seek the upper hand in the industry’s most profitable segment.
Lately it’s been Chevy tweaking Ford’s aluminum-bodied F-150, launched in late 2014 and billed as a revolutionary material transformation that GM and others eventually would be forced to mimic to reduce mass and make it easier to comply with fuel-economy regulations. While GM is expected to use more aluminum in its next-generation Silverado and GMC Sierra, due out in 2018, company executives and engineers have said frequently that they won’t rely too heavily on one material to achieve mass savings.
Last summer, Chevy launched a prelude to the new campaign with a commercial that had volunteers assess the strength of an aluminum cage vs. a steel one, just before a grizzly bear lumbered into the room. Almost every person scrambled to the steel cage.
“Truck customers demand the ability to haul their toys, tools and other cargo,” Piszar said in today’s press release. “These videos demonstrate the real-world benefits of the Silverado’s bed, in both extreme and everyday scenarios.”
Chevy also raises the issue of repair costs. Piszar claims in the release that, even if the Silverado’s bed is damaged, steel is “easier to repair than aluminum, potentially saving money and minimizing time” in the collision shop.
In another video, former NFL hall of famer and occasional Chevy pitchman Howie Long chats with Silverado chief engineer Eric Stanczak about the differences between the Silverado’s steel bed and the F-150’s aluminum one. Stanczak demonstrates by nudging a large metal toolbox off the edge of each truck’s bed wall. The corner of the box gashes the F-150’s bed, while leaving only a small dent in the Silverado.
“All of this would really make me think twice about buying a truck with an aluminum bed,” Long concludes.
The campaign comes as Ford tries to claw back market share it ceded to Chevy last year, when Ford’s F-series availability was limited as the company ramped up production of the redesigned pickup. The Silverado had its biggest market share gain in a decade while Ford’s share slipped.
Ford bounced back through May this year, with F-series sales rising 7.1 percent and Silverado sales slipping 0.1 percent. Ram sales rose 7.7 percent.
The campaign’s launch coincides with Chevy’s Truck Month promotion, which features some of the largest incentives offered on the Silverado since the current truck rolled out in mid-2013. Qualified buyers can get 0 percent interest for 60 months plus up to $8,250 in cash and other incentives on certain crew cab models.