Ford, Chrysler Events Showcase New Cars, Trucks – Toyota Tundra Perceptions
Last week, Ford and Chrysler invited Tim Esterdahl to check out their new products. During this time, he got the chance to talk to several representatives and drive several of their latest truck offerings. Here is what he found out.
Each year, manufactures like Ford and Chrysler invite journalists from around the world to check out their offerings. This years, thanks to eBay Motors, Tim Esterdahl was able to attend these conferences.
After a few evenings of hobnobbing with fellow journalists and manufacture representatives, I learned a lot about the direction the different manufactures are moving and how other journalists/manufactures perceive the Toyota Tundra as a full-size competitor.
Ford – Capable, Light-Weight Trucks
Ford’s event was held over the course of a day at their proving grounds in Dearborn, MI. This facility is pretty remarkable and the amount of testing they do is unbelievable. After seeing their engineers at work, it furthers my surprise when an automaker has to recall a product or misses an issue like the condensation issue on the EcoBoost.
A quick note on the condensation issue. I spent the week in Michigan and spent several days with my family. During my time there, it was (as usual) really hot and humid. The surprising part to me then, is how Ford missed the condensation issue. It must be a really hot and humid day for the trucks to go into limp mode. I’m not saying it can’t happen, it was just surprising with Michigan’s weather and how much Ford tests.
During the day, Ford unveiled their new Edge crossover that competes directly with the Toyota Venza. Ford has spent a lot of time on this vehicle and, frankly, it shows. The new Edge has a plethora of new technology offerings and includes a new 2.0L EcoBoost engine with a new twin-scroll turbocharger design. Ford says it will push out 245 HP with 270 ft.-lbs of torque. Fuel economy and pricing numbers are not being announced (of course).
After many press conferences about the new Edge, we hit the track only to be disappointed with their assortment of driving events. The events only consisted of a high-speed track (70 MPH tops), low-speed track (50 MPH), steering and handling loop (30 MPH or so tops) and an automated driving experience with a robot driving you around. For trucks, they really only had 250 and 350 F-series trucks on the high-speed track. A pretty big disappointment.
I did, though, get a chance to talk with a brand manager on the F-series and Raptor trucks. He is a true Ford fan who recently drove the 2015 F-150 with their new 2.7L EcoBoost. He remarked how well the truck did for everyday driving. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a chance to tow with it. He pointed out the only reason he didn’t tow was because of the shortness of the drive and lack of a bed. I’ll take him for his word on this.
Conversing for the better part of an hour, I come away with the following conclusions:
- Ford really did their homework, despite media reports to the contrary, before releasing the new F-150. They meet with dealers, consumer test groups, insurance companies and repair facilities. My sense is that yes, insurance premiums will rise with the new truck. Yet, with fuel economy getting better, it may offset a bit. I DON’T think it will offset all the increases in insurance premiums and savvy consumers will have a decision to make.
- Repair facilities take on aluminum seems to still be a bit of a mystery. While dealers will be ready, my sense is third-party vendors will mostly be not be ready. For them, they will have to make a large investment on a relatively new (yes, aluminum is used in the Range Rover), and unknown, as of yet, repair process. With the repair process still getting sorted out, there will be plenty of facilities not ready at the time of the truck’s launch. Is this a big deal? Probably not. But, it could cause some early customer complaints. You just don’t know.
During the week, Ford’s Americas chief Hinrichs told Autonews the F-150 was still on schedule and reports of its delay are unfounded. I found this statement to be odd since the truck has already been reportedly delayed from a 3rd Quarter launch. For most trucks and cars, you have around a 2 quarter time frame from the vehicles introduction to hitting the dealer lots. For example, vehicles unveiled at the January and February Auto Shows in Detroit and Chicago respectively, will hit the dealer lots in the fall. Those shows occur in the 1st Quarter and the vehicles go into production during July in order to hit dealer lots in the 3rd Quarter. This is similar to the Tundra truck and GM twins time frame.
I was told Ford’s F-150 will hit dealer lots late 4th Quarter. For reference, it was unveiled in January. To be fair, the truck is using a dramatically different material than other trucks and production issues would seem normal. However, something doesn’t jive with me. If Ford spent all the time planning the new truck, why isn’t it coming to dealer lots in the fall? Also, why aren’t the pre-production models ready for journalists to drive. I’ve now spent several hours sitting in F-150s and have even listened to the engine run. Yet, they are still not ready for journalists to drive.
With the timing explained, you can see why there has been much discussion on the F-150 seemingly delayed. The reality is that the delay will ultimately be long forgotten after the truck comes out as long as the truck doesn’t suffer any quality issues. If it does, the question on using so much aluminum will haunt Ford.
In the end, I give Ford a lot of credit for many things these days. The new truck interior is just outstanding, the aluminum body panels are amazingly smooth and the whole truck looks sharp. I do have my concerns on the 2.7L EcoBoost, as far as, it being a “truck motor.” Also, I wish they would set aside their pride on the tailgate step, ditch it and incorporate GM’s bumper step or something else. It just doesn’t fit with the truck anymore.
It may sound funny to those who think I bleed Toyota, but I can’t wait to drive the truck and I hope Ford raising the bar will inspire Toyota to speed up development of new powertrains and innovations.
Ram Trucks Continue to Make Impression
Chrysler’s events were hands down way, WAY better than Ford’s and were well worth attending. Like Ford they brought the journalists to their proving grounds. Unlike Ford, they had a multi-day trip with a driving event and then a historic 100 years of Dodge event.
For the driving event, in complete contrast of Ford’s scripted event, Chrysler simply said, “Enjoy your day” and had many different versions of all their vehicles. There had to be close to 100 vehicles to choose from.
Much like a “kid in the candy store” I had several different Ram trucks to drive, a large group of marketing reps to talk with and other journalists to share thoughts with. It was a blast!
For the event, I drove the new Power Wagon through a pretty intense off-road track with log steps, large rocks, muddy 40 degree hill descents, mud bogs with knee high water and other obstacles. The course was setup for Jeeps mainly, but they allowed the truck to go through as well with some guidance in the tight sections. The Power Wagon, of course, handled it all without complaint.
One funny story came out from the event with regards to the Power Wagon. Like I said, journalists were invited from all over the world with a large variety of common sense. One such journalists thought it would be a great idea to drive a Ram 3500 dually in the off-road course. Yes, the off-road course! The truck, of course, got stuck and had to be rescued by the Power Wagon. As it was brought back to the main area, the side rails could be seen bouncing up and down. Apparently, the truck had become high centered and the rails were holding the truck up. To their credit, Ram was able to bend the side rails back into place and the truck was left in use.
During the day, I drove a variety of other trucks including the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. For this truck, I drove it around a road loop that consisted of two lanes. One lane had smooth pavement and was meant to replicate “good roads” and the other consisted of many different varieties of pavement that were “bad roads.”
The EcoDiesel performed like you think it would. It sounded like a diesel and the acceleration pedal responded like a diesel. Honestly, I would have swore I was driving a 2500 or 3500 truck and not a half-ton. The ride handling, though, really impressed me. I had heard from several other journalists that the ride quality on the Ram was outstanding. I agree.
I also drove the dually, a regular cab 2wd 1500 and a crew cab 1500. The dually rode quite a bit harsher than I thought it would while the other Ram trucks rode really well.
One note on the half-ton Ram trucks though. I was really surprised on several things. First, I thought you could feel the transmission shifts points on the 8 speed a lot more than a 6 speed. Not a huge deal, it just didn’t feel as smooth to me like others have said it does.
Also, I was pretty surprised at how the rotary dial didn’t really bother me too much. Ram and Chrysler are using it on other products in their lineup and it is simply becoming a part of their lineup. I’m not saying, I am a big fan of it, it just didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.
100 Years of Dodge Celebration – Early Truck and Power Wagon
The next day, we meet at the Dodge brother’s mansion for a 100 years of Dodge celebration. This was simply an amazing event where we got the opportunity to drive classic Dodge products from their museum collection.
Crossing a walk-way bridge, we entered a courtyard filled with halfway new Challenger and Chargers. The other half was filled with Dodge concept vehicles. It was remarkable to walk around and see these vehicles up close.
After the presentation, we walked down through barn doors to find a selection of vehicles awaiting us. The “garage” area is where the Dodge brothers built their first cars. These were the cars we could drive and several journalists, including myself, were simply stunned.
The drive consisted of a 25 MPH loop around the property (we were supposed to go 25 MPH). While, the 1970 Dodge Challengers and 2010 Viper were great fun, I was able to ride in a 1941 Combat Carrier and 1915 Dodge Truck (precursor to the Ram truck lineup). Those trucks were really amazing to ride in and see up close.
In the end, these trips are great to learn more about the different manufacture’s strategies and plans for the future. And I hope, it helps you the reader to know, that I really do attend events with the intention of providing a broader picture of the full-size truck market. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, right now is an amazing time for full-size trucks with new technologies and products flooding the market. It is going to be a lot of fun over the next few years to see how everything unfolds.
Toyota Tundra Perception
I’ve spoken about this before, but I think it needs reiterating again. Most of the journalists and representatives I spoke with don’t talk a lot about Toyota. Essentially, they along with others, don’t see it as a big competitor to the other makers and there isn’t a lot to say. Back when Toyota took the world by storm, it was all the rage. Now, with the arguably, mild refresh, there isn’t that much discussion.
Most of the manufactures talked about how they give Toyota credit for their segment innovations like the large Crewmax cab and sliding rear window. Also, they talk about how Toyota has a great engine. Yet, the ride quality and lack of innovation on the 2014 model continue to be a hot topic. Most of the reps give Toyota lots of credit for their 2007 work and wonder where the innovation has gone.
Journalists largely share the similar message that representatives do. Toyota may have wanted to simply improve on what they saw as weaknesses in their products, not pushing the bar has hurt their perception. In this day and age, slight improvements don’t seem to cut it anymore. You go big or you go home seems to be the mantra.
Toyota has their work cut out to be relevant in industry insiders minds again. Whether they want that remains to be seen. The next few years are going to be really interesting.
Filed Under: TundraHeadquarters.com