In April, Ford announced that it will be phasing out nearly all of its passenger cars in the United States.
If all goes according to plan, 90 percent of Ford’s portfolio in North America will be trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles. Its F-150 – the most popular vehicle in America – is now poised to build on its stunning success.
The model’s ascent is really part of a larger, decades-long trend of Americans’ eschewing sedans for trucks and SUVs.
But why do Americans flock to the F-150 over the Tacoma or the Silverado?
I study how innovation drives success in competitive markets, and Ford’s emphasis on original design – together with its frequent upgrades – have allowed the F-Series to gain an edge over its peers.
A post-war truck boom
By the end of World War II, the car market in the United States, was, by and large, a seller’s market.
From February 1942 to October 1945, the War Production Board froze automobile production for civilian use, which created pent-up demand for 5 to 9 million new cars by the time the war ended.
In a race to cash in, U.S. automotive manufacturers capitalized on the expertise they had gained from manufacturing military trucks during the war and introduced trucks – in addition to cars – into the market.
In the past, trucks had been marketed to farmers and business owners. These newer trucks, advertised as a more comfortable ride with larger cabins, were designed to also appeal to suburban buyers.
In 1947 Chevrolet launched its Advance-Design trucks, while the now-defunct International Harvester launched its KB Series.
Staying ahead of the competition
Since the earliest days of the U.S. auto industry, innovation has been a critical element for sustained success. To keep up with the evolution of consumer demands and emergence of new technologies, automakers have to invest heavily on research and development. In 2017 alone, they spent more than $100 billion globally. Companies that fall behind in this innovation “arms race” tend to either go out of business or are acquired.
Now in its 13th generation, the F-Series has been through more frequent upgrades and redesigns than its competitors, and its innovation is a big reason for the line’s enduring popularity.
We saw it in the early 1950s, when Ford updated its Million Dollar Cab by designing a “Five Star Extra Cab,” which came with foam seat padding, twin horns, and improved sound proofing. We saw it in 1987, when the F-Series became the first pickup truck to introduce rear anti-lock brakes as a standard feature.