Lower Gas Prices Could Dampen Sales of 2015 F-150 Pickup

With average fuel prices at a four-year low, there is concern that Ford Motor Company’s redesigned 2015 F-150 pickup may get a lukewarm reception from consumers.

Ford has invested five years and approximately $3 billion to develop the lighter, more fuel efficient version of the iconic F-150 which has held the title of best-selling light truck for 37 consecutive years, and is responsible for about 50 percent of the automaker’s earnings in North America.  The 2015 F-150 is scheduled to go on sale in December, but average gasoline prices have dropped by 15 percent over the past four months, and they’re expected to drop even lower in the coming months.

Although Ford has not released the aluminum-bodied F-150’s official fuel economy estimates, it has said that they will represent between a 5 percent and 20 percent improvement over the current model’s numbers. Most analysts have speculated that the high-volume model will get a combined city/highway fuel economy of about 19 miles per gallon.  Comparable models from Chrysler and GM deliver 17 and 18 miles per gallon respectively.

Barclays senior analyst Brian Johnson says “the world seems to have fundamentally changed” from when the 2015 F-150 was originally planned. He expects the automaker to “improve the price point over the outgoing truck by appealing to the price insensitive, upper-end buyer,” but predicts, “Getting a premium based on future lifetime fuel-economy savings isn’t going to happen.”

Ford has defended its decision to, in essence, “fix what wasn’t broken.” Ford’s president of the Americas region Joe Hinrichs says the lighter, more fuel efficient model will allow the company to remain competitive as fuel-economy mandates rise in the coming years.

Bringing the truck to market has not been without its struggles. One person familiar with Ford’s metal stamping process said there have been issues with aluminum panels splitting, and a new tools that cut and shape the aluminum composite have had to be refabricated. The setbacks have reportedly caused some workers to work 12-hour days as the company nears its scheduled launch date.  The company’s VP of North American manufacturing Bruce Hettle says such issues are expected with any new model launch and asserts, “We are on schedule.”

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