Leather, chrome and snakeskin fulfil buyers' bent for fancy trucks
Chrysler dealership owner Chrysler and Ford are testing the limits of pickup truck buyers' appetite for pickups loaded with leather, chrome and heated seats at price tags that can top US$50,000 ($65,000).
It took just three days for dealers to snap up the full year's allotment of Chrysler's new luxury-trim Ram Laramie Limited pickups.
Ford, whose F-Series has been the top-selling vehicle line in the United States for 30 years, said this week it would add a range-topping Limited luxury model later this year.
"I don't know if you can put enough bells and whistles on trucks," said Hayden Elder, the owner of a Chrysler dealership in Athens, Texas.
While light trucks have lost 1.6 percentage points of US share this year, used pickup pricing has remained stable and the number of long-lasting trucks on US roads continues to climb.
"Automakers are warming up to the view that there is potentially far more pent-up demand for pickups than commonly believed," said Itay Michaeli, an analyst at Citigroup.
"If you buy a pickup there is probably some level of utility that you wanted, and if you had so much money that you could afford to buy a pickup for fun, you may still have a lot of money and still continue to do that."
This week Chrysler begins production of the Ram 1500 Laramie Limited in Warren, Michigan. With a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, it displaces the Laramie Longhorn as Chrysler's most expensive truck.
Equipped with extra chrome and cowboy-boot inspired leather stitching, the Longhorn helped boost Chrysler's pricing last year.
About 13 per cent of light-duty Ram pickups sold for at least US$40,000, up from 9 per cent in 2010. Among heavy-duty Rams, 29 per cent sold for at least US$50,000 last year, up from 22 per cent a year earlier.
"That gave us the rationale and a business case to build Limited," said brand president Fred Diaz.
With all of the Laramie Limiteds scheduled to be built this year already spoken for by dealers across the country, Chrysler is working with parts suppliers to try to boost production, Diaz says.
Chrysler says the Laramie Limited is a "Platinum fighter", a reference to Ford's F-Series Platinum, which has heated and cooled power front seats in black or pecan leather, along with Ford's Sync voice-controlled infotainment system. This year Ford plans to add a fancier model called the Limited, though it hasn't announced details on features and pricing.
When Ford introduced the Platinum for the 2009 model year, the company expected it would account for about 3 per cent of F- 150 sales, said Doug Scott, marketing manager for Ford truck.
Platinum has more than doubled the company's forecast by consistently making up at least 6 per cent of F-150 mix, he said.
A US$40,000-plus King Ranch edition of the F-Series caters to Texas tastes with its 20cm touch screen, Sync infotainment hub and dual USB ports amid the black interior with wood-grain appliques. More interested in snakeskin leather accents? Check out the Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 that starts at about US$50,000.
"The truck market, maybe a little less so today but in general over this last three- or four-year period, has been made up of a higher mix of more affluent people," Scott said.
A rebound in pickup demand will partly stem from a housing recovery, says Jeff Schuster, an analyst at LMC Automotive in suburban Detroit. Contractors have held on to older equipment and delayed replacement as they "ride out" the decline in construction activity, he says.
LMC estimates pickups will slip to 12.7 per cent of the US car market by 2016, from 14.1 per cent last year, mainly because of challenges in housing and a consumer shift toward smaller vehicles.
Carmakers are more confident. Sales of 2 million full-size pickups annually in the US was "certainly in the planning horizon", Ford's Scott said.
General Motors added the Denali premium name to its GMC Sierra pickup line in 2010, and this year the sub-brand made up 35 per cent of heavy-duty Sierra retail sales, up from 15 per cent in 2010, said Tony DiSalle, vice-president for GMC marketing.
A heavy-duty Sierra Denali sells for about US$3000 more than a Sierra SLT, which starts at US$40,425.
"Buyers want the comfort and luxury amenities in a highly capable vehicle," said DiSalle.
- Automotive News