GM’s Chevrolet takes shots at Ford’s aluminum F-150 – USA TODAY
The rivalry between General Motors and Ford intensified on a key battlefront: the pickup truck wars.
GM released a stinging Web commercial taking direct shots at Ford over the costs and speed of the Blue Oval automaker’s pickup truck repairs.
The Web hit — which may turn into a full-blown TV ad campaign — features NFL broadcast personality Howie Long interviewing an expert about the costs of fixing the aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck.
In the ad, GM claims it costs an average of $1,755 more and took an additional 34 days to fix the F-150 than its direct GM competitor, the Chevrolet Silverado, following a simulated low-speed accident.
“So if I’m a guy that uses my truck for work, every day I don’t have that truck, that costs me money,” Long says. “In addition, you got higher repair bills. I’d be interested to know what happens to insurance costs. I got to tell you — all that certainly makes me think twice about an aluminum-bodied truck. Seems like you’d be taking a risk.”
The Web scuffle joins a storied tradition of marketing jabs between GM and Ford — sometimes all in good fun, sometimes not so much. A few years ago, GM took a few digs at Ford in a Super Bowl commercial, eliciting a cease-and-desist letter from Ford that GM promptly ignored.
The flare-up in the legendary rivalry between two of the Detroit Three automakers comes amid a feverish scrum to grab the attention of U.S. pickup truck buyers, the most profitable segment of the industry.
It also exposes the diverging strategies of the world’s largest pickup truck makers.
Ford bet heavily on aluminum when it released the redesigned F-series trucks last year, believing that consumers would embrace the lighter metal, which translates into better fuel economy. But Chevy stuck with high-strength steel — apart from aluminum in a few places — in a strategic bet that it can squeeze out fuel economy gains through a more traditional route.
One sticking point with aluminum vehicles, however, is higher repair costs — at least while repair shops and parts makers adjust to the new paradigm.
That gives GM a marketing edge, which the automaker is now blatantly exploiting.
“We think at this point high-strength steels is the best material for a full-size pickup,” GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said in an interview. “It’s really been an opportunity for us to talk about telling our story and strengthening our business. We’re having a great year so far and we want to build on that momentum.”
In the 3-minute commercial, GM said it hired AMCI Testing to survey the differences in repair costs and time between the Silverado and F-150. The automaker said it tested four units of each vehicle.
“Without knowing the details about how the test was conducted, it’s difficult to estimate or verify repair costs and time,” Ford spokesman Mike Levine said in an email. “With proper tools and training, cosmetic repairs to aluminum body panels will take a similar amount of time as steel panel repairs, based on historical data collected from repairs of other Ford vehicles with aluminum body panels.”
The ad is particularly curious because industry observers believe GM may integrate more aluminum into its pickup trucks when they are redesigned in a few years.
That simply underscores that the auto companies will do what it takes to swipe pickup market share away from their competitors, Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer said.
“These are the truck wars. There’s a lot of money at stake,” Brauer said. “If right now, today, the Silverado is made of high-strength steel and the F-150 is made of aluminum, and Chevrolet wants to construct an ad campaign that questions the aluminum, they can do that.”
Ford’s Levine said the 2015 F-150 is “designed so sections of the truck are easier to repair in the event of an accident, significantly reducing time of repair and saving costs.”
It’s been a tough year for the F-150, which has suffered from insufficient production as Ford ramps up manufacturing. Sales of the F-series truck — the most popular vehicle in the U.S. — fell 8.9% to 357,180 units for the first six months of the year, compared to the same period in 2014.
Meanwhile, sales of the Silverado rose 18.4% to 275,822.
GM’s Wilkinson said the company is exploring opportunities to turn the Web commercial into a shorter TV ad spot.
“At this point we’re having some fun with it on social media,” he said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.