1980 Ford F-250
1980 Ford F-250. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Howard J. Elmer

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Ford F-150 – The King of the Sales Charts Dethroned

Over 27.5 million Ford pickups have been built and sold throughout North America – most of those staying south of the border where it consistently ranks in the top 10 of best selling vehicles.

But in Canada the F-series has held some particularly impressive sales records as well over the past sixty years. For instance, “Best Selling Pickup” for 42 years (as of 2007) and “Best Selling Canadian Vehicle” for the past five years (as of 2007). But all that changed this year when the Honda Civic pulled ahead of the F-series in June sales – dropping it into second place. As of October (the latest figures available), the Civic’s 2008 sales were 65,649; F-Series sales were 59,326. It’s unlikely the F-Series will beat the Civic to the post by the end of the year.

1948 Ford F-1
1953 Ford F-100
1965 Ford F-100
1948 Ford F-1 (top); 1953 Ford F-100; 1965 Ford F-100. Click image to enlarge

Naturally, the huge volatility in fuel prices has had a profound influence on consumer’s buying choices – shifting them sharply towards smaller, more fuel efficient cars. In the United States this shift has been even more sever – dropping the F-series into fifth place in sales overall; after a 17-year run in the top spot.

Still, this overall sales performance of a sixty year old brand should raise some curiosity as to why it’s sold so well – and with the current debut of the new 2009 F-series (which is a complete redesign) and the recent drop in fuel prices, there is still some hope it may be on top again before long.

Ford debuted its first F-series pickup truck – the F-1 – in the post-WWII economic boom of 1948. Of course this was prior to the Auto Pact that would later allow the free movement of auto parts and production between Canada and the United States. So in ’48, Ford’s marketing strategy had the F-series pickup built in Ontario but badged as Mercury. That first year the Mercury half-ton sold just 2,714 units in Canada; from there its popularity and sales grew.

Since then books have been written about the six decades of F-series pickup history. If the cause of its success was boiled down to one word it would have to be “choice”. That is what the F-series has always offered: choices. And pickup truck owners (whose needs are as varied as their professions, lifestyles and regions) soon recognized the advantages of being able to “build” a truck that personally suited them.

1974 Ford F-150
1978 Ford F-100
1987 Ford F-150
1995 Ford F-150
1997 Ford F-150
2004 Ford F-150
2009 Ford F-150
1974 Ford F-150 (top); 1978 Ford F-100; 1987 Ford F-150; 1995 Ford F-150; 1997 Ford F-150; 2004 Ford F-150; 2009 Ford F-150. Click image to enlarge

This is where Ford has excelled – its ability to blend utility with the personal wants of its buyers; starting with that F-1 that debuted with what Ford called the “million dollar” cab. It’s advertising appealed to buyers by saying they would be getting the benefit of the company having spent a million dollars developing the new, more comfortable cab on its 1948 pickup. And it worked. More choices followed.

A completely redesigned (and newly badged) F-100 in 1953; significantly updated again in 1957 with a modern look dropping the hood flush with the front fenders. In 1959 the F-series offered factory-built 4WD as an option. Then in 1961 the F-series morphed into an almost modern-looking slab-sided pickup with again, an all new cab.

By 1961, Ford had offered three different inline six-cylinder and four different V8 engines, three and four-speed standard transmissions, in eight different weight-range models since the F-1 had made its original debut. More choices than any other brand – and that trend would continue.

By 1965 Ford had realized just how many of its customers were using its trucks for both work and as personal vehicles. Much of its advertising now started to focus on this dual usage. A particularly successful innovation (and ad campaign) was the introduction of Twin I-Beam front suspension which let Ford boast that the F-series would “drive like a car – work like a truck.” Also that year Ford introduced its Camper Special package for F-100 and F-250, another industry first; Crew Cab pickups were also made available as a special order.

By 1970 full-size pickup truck sales had reached 1.2 million North America wide, with the F-Series commanding a 41.9 percent share of the segment. By then the F-series had already been the best selling truck in Canada for the past five years.

In 1973 the next generation of Ford trucks was introduced with a stretched frame which accepted larger standard cabs; something customers had been loudly calling for. In fact just the next year the first SuperCab debuted (June 1974), adding 44 cubic feet of space behind the driver’s seat with either a bench seat or two jump seats for passengers.

The F-150 debuted in 1975. Slightly larger that he F-100 it was available in Regular Cab and SuperCab variations. The F-100 would continue (as more of a work truck variation) till it was merged with the F-150 offerings in 1984.

The 1980 F-series was again a complete redesign with a new aerodynamic look and featuring a whole new interior with car-like amenities. It also offered its 4WD option with twin-traction-beam independent front suspension with coil springs. The SuperCab would grow again in 1988 ’til finally in 1997 the first standard three-door truck cab was introduced; a fourth door was then added in 1999.

In 1999 Ford took the concept of choice to another level by splitting its truck offerings. While the F designations remained, the F-150 variations of the half-ton truck were separated from the heavier F-250 and up trucks with a new classification – SuperDuty. This innovation let Ford target heavier truck users with features and options meant specifically for them – such as the Power Stroke diesel engines.

Finally in 2001, Ford moved the F-series pickup into the current age with the first-ever “SuperCrew”. This truck added a full-size rear seat and forward hinged doors to a half-ton pickup, an innovation that was quickly copied throughout the industry, but certainly the one that helped them establish sales dominance in Canada for most of this decade.

For 2009 the F-series continues this tradition with a three engine V8 line-up, a larger cab (not at the expense of the box) an integrated trailer brake controller, the highest tow and payload limits (ever) available box side steps and a hideaway tailgate step.

As for the fuel issue – Ford will likely answer that as well in the near future with a V6 gas/turbo option.

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