GM and Ford pick-up strategies sharply different image

GM and Ford have important truck debuts at next week’s North American International Auto Show: Chevrolet will re-introduce the midsize Canyon pickup — sister of the already unveiled Colorado and Ford will unwrap its next-generation F-150, a truck much lighter than the current model thanks to more extensive use of aluminum in the body.

Mark Reuss, GM’s North American president, admits his company is taking a risk with its three-size truck strategy across two brands. Smaller pickups, GM believes, will offer customers a greater number of options and help the Detroit-based automaker meet federal fuel efficiency standards.

But Reuss isn’t afraid that GM’s strategy won’t keep pace with Ford’s, which includes one popular nameplate — the F-Series — and a huge gamble on aluminum parts to help its trucks shed weight to meet the same fuel economy targets.

The market segment of smaller pickups — known as midsize trucks in the US — has declined for decades. And extensive use of aluminum in pickups is an untested approach. While truck owners are overwhelmingly brand loyal, there’s a real chance GM or Ford — or both — are choosing the wrong strategy for some of their most profitable vehicles.

Ford’s F-Series is the king of trucks. Its full-size F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle — car or truck — in the U.S. for 32 consecutive years. And in 2013, despite the fact that Ford had the oldest of the Big Three’s major truck offerings — including the F-150, GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado and Chrysler’s Ram — Ford extended its lead over GM compared to 2012.

Ford and GM offer full-size and heavy-duty trucks. The difference is that GM plans to boost its fleet wide fuel efficiency numbers in part through midsize trucks, which historically have been only slightly more efficient than their full-size counterparts. GM’s new midsize trucks should sip considerably less fuel when they go on sale this year. And presently, none of the Detroit automakers has a small pickup offering.