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Ford F-150: filling all the niches.

Alfred Sloan's famous dictum, "A car for every purse and purpose" is not one you will likely see resurrected in the new F-150 ad campaign of his old nemesis Ford, but the idea is there nonetheless. When the 2004 F-150 truck hits dealerships it will offer far more variations than any of its competitors: there are five different trim levels, three available cab configurations, three different cargo box lengths and two box styles. In all, customers will be able to mix and match for a grand total of 26 choices. Ford says that the closest any other competitor comes in the variation sweepstakes is its archrival the Chevrolet Silverado with an anemic 15 choices.

Why so many? While non-pickup drivers might think that truck owners are all of a kind, Patrick Schiavone, design director for Ford's trucks and SUVs, says that the focus groups his team conducted in preparation for designing the new F-150 revealed some very distinctly different buyer segments. Participants ran the gamut from those who insisted on a tough, cheap work vehicle with no frills to those that essentially wanted a luxury car with a bed and towing capabilities. "We broke down the customers into five different groups and made a truck for each one," says Schiavone. Thus the five different trim levels. At the bottom of the line up is the XL which is an unadorned hauler. At the top is the Lariat which boasts features not usually associated with toting cow manure like heated leather seats, automatic climate control and cream-colored gauges. "The guy who wants luxury wants ultra-luxury," says Schiavone, "So we designed the Lariat to be the first full-on luxury pickup that is as good as a luxury car." To appeal to customers more interested in off-roading (or the off-roading image) Ford turned its special edition four-wheel-drive FX4 into a full-fledged trim level. "The thing I am most proud of with the new F-150 is the absolute clarity we have created in every segment," says Schiavone.

Of course, while trying to be all trucks to all customers is certainly a marketer's dream, it is a manufacturer's nightmare. The added complexity of so many factory options will no doubt take its toll on the plants that will have to keep up with all of the variations, but Ford says that the new flexible manufacturing system it is introducing at the F-150 plants (Norfolk, VA, Kansas City, MO and Dearborn, MI) can handle the strain. If so, Ford's "fill every niche" strategy might keep the F-150 at the top of the heap in the increasingly competitive full-size truck segment.--KEW
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Title Annotation:WIP
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
Words:435
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