Attention Ford Fans: Sales Figures Don’t Matter

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It’s popular in the Ford truck community to brag about the fact that the F-series has been #1 in truck sales in the US for 30+ years running. The idea is that, because Ford sells the most trucks, they must make the best truck.

The trouble is, this logic is based on a false assumption. Sales figures aren’t proof of quality because consumer behavior isn’t logical. In fact, when it comes to cars, consumer buying behavior is incredibly illogical. Consider the following:

  1. There are numerous publications that take the time to rank and review every new car every year.
  2. There are numerous independent companies that rate the quality and reliability of every new vehicle on the market.
  3. Despite strong reviews and strong ratings for quality, many cars fail to make sales gains in the marketplace. Conversely, vehicles with poor quality ratings and bad reviews are still sold.

This is because, at the end of the day, vehicle sales aren’t just about vehicle quality. They’re also about emotions, perceptions, politics, personal experience, and more.

Vehicle Consumers And Logic

Why do some people buy convertibles? They’re more expensive than a comparable coupe, they don’t offer as much performance, and they’re usually not as safe. What’s the logic in that decision?

Why do some people buy Land Rover? The Land Rover brand has never been known for quality or reliability, and most of the time Land Rover ranks near the bottom of JD Power and Consumer Reports quality and reliability studies…yet 30k+ people bought Land Rovers in 2010. Some of them spent upwards of $75k, despite the fact that vehicles from Lexus, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, GMC, etc. all have better ratings (and very often better reviews).

Why do some people buy trucks or SUVs as commuter vehicles? It’s cheaper to buy a car.

Why do some people buy an SUV when a minivan would make more sense? A minivan is less expensive, safer, more convenient, more fuel efficient, etc. – why aren’t they more popular?

Why do some people buy a Lexus ES when it’s damn near the same as an XLE Camry? The Camry is less expensive and almost the same…doesn’t it make more sense to buy the Camry than the ES?

Question: Why do people act so illogically when they buy cars?

The answer is, we’re human. We buy what we want, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s our right as free consumers to do whatever the hell we want with our money regardless of logic, common sense, etc.

For the record, I’m just as guilty as anyone. I’ve owned a convertible. I’ve driven a big truck as a commuter vehicle. I’ve wasted money on stereos, lift kits, wheels, big tires, graphics, alarm systems…you name the accessory, I’ve wasted money on it.

…and I’m no different than most people. While there was logic in many of my vehicle decisions, few of them were entirely logical. I’m not perfect – and neither is the average American vehicle buyer.

Sales Figures and Consumer Logic Don’t Mix

So, now that we’ve all acknowledged that consumers aren’t always logical when it’s time to buy a car, let’s head back to the claim that many Ford fans make about the F-series.

Ford sells more trucks than anyone else. Therefore, they make the best truck.”

Wrong. The two aren’t related because 1) Consumers aren’t always logical, and 2) Sales are influenced by numerous “outliers” such as:

  1. Pricing and incentives – Manufacturers can “buy” sales by under-pricing their vehicles, messing with lease residuals, etc.
  2. Loyalty – Consumers – especially truck consumers – are fiercely loyal. Ford owners especially so.
  3. Styling – People buy what they like based on looks.
  4. “Fun to drive” factor – People buy something because it’s “fun” (convertible, anyone?)
  5. Perceptions about patriotism. Some people won’t buy “foreign” cars regardless of where the cars are actually built.
  6. Previous purchase experiences. Good or bad, previous experiences are a big factor.
  7. Dealership personnel. Ever been to a dealership where the salesperson was a complete and total d-bag? Did that one person color your perception of the entire brand? Me too.
  8. Media reports. Many people refuse to acknowledge that “domestic” car companies GM, Ford, and Chrysler-Fiat are closing the quality gap with Honda and Toyota. Conversely, erroneous and incorrect reports of “unintended acceleration” damaged Toyota sales in the last year or so. Thanks, LA Slimes!
  9. Fuel costs. Remember in 2008 when people panicked over fuel costs? Car dealers couldn’t give away an SUV in those days, yet today’s gas prices are just as high as they were in 2008 and SUV sales are strong.
  10. Global events. From earthquakes and tsunamis to worker strikes and bankruptcy filings, there are outside factors that influence sales.

Now I know what you’re saying:

Jason, that’s all well and good, but each of these factors effects all auto manufacturers. Why should we discount sales figures if every manufacturer has to deal with the same set of problems?

The answer? Pricing and loyalty are first and second for a reason. Ford (and GM) enjoy incredible economies of scale that allow them to out-price competitors in the truck segment, so they typically sell more than everyone else every year on this basis alone.

Second, we have loyalty. How many people know a Ford or GM or Ram truck owner who absolutely refuses to entertain any other brand of truck? It’s completely illogical…yet it’s very, very common. According to JD Power, Ford owners are even more loyal than Honda owners in this regard.

Sales Figures Are Proof Of Nothing More Than Sales

My final proof that sales figures aren’t proof of vehicle quality or reliability? Chrysler.

Even the most *casual* review of any Consumer Reports, JD Power study, etc. between the years of 1980 and 2008 would have shown that Chrysler’s overall quality was significantly below the quality of competing companies in all segments – excepting perhaps the minivan and the Grand Cherokee. According to the experts, Chrysler made a below average product for years, and yet people kept buying them…how do you explain that?

Question: Why would people willingly buy a product that was determined to be inferior by every major automotive review organization?

Answer: Because they never did any research. They just showed up and bought a new Chrysler cause’ that’s what they’d always done. If they had cracked a Consumer Reports during most of the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, they would have bought something else.

Am I saying that Ford only sells F-Series because of consumer loyalty? No. They make great vehicles, and to their credit Ford quality is only getting better. However, sales figures aren’t a simple thing. Low costs and a large existing customer base give Ford sales momentum, but sales momentum isn’t proof of quality.

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  1. Josh says:

    All good points but #7 made me bust out laughing!

  2. cater says:

    Dont forget that the F-series is a Series f-150 f-250 f-250 And so on. If Toyota had a series t-tundra t-tacoma t-helix it maybe a differ story.

  3. Anthony G says:

    F150 sales go up as Tundra sales go down…coincidence?

  4. mk says:

    thanks Jason for the posting, I knew the above comments already but try getting your points across to a Ford or GM fan in my area and you will be sadly brushed off like you don’t know what you are talking about. Not my idea (the misses), but I even traded in this weekend our 09′ corolla LE sedan getting 36 mpg for a Korean mfg. Hyunda Santa Fe actually built in West Point, Georgia. Sticker says 50% parts made in Korea and 50% made in USA though, oh well. So far, besides loosing 10 mpg which is why I wanted to keep our corolla with gas nearing 4 bucks per gallon again thus saving us 15 bucks per week in gas, the Santa Fe is a well put together vehicle. I just hope it was as reliable 1-2 years down the road as the Corolla was. If not, I will be torn to go back to the outdated, yet fuel efficient, Corolla again (by then, I hope they change their body style and interior and get a 6 speed auto) or take my chances again with a Hyundai Sonata much bigger and sportier car than the Corolla and still getting 35 mpg with a 4 cylinder. Who would’ve thought a GM guy like me for the past 25 years getting GM employee priced vehicles would switch to Toyota and Hyundai. Hey, at least my Tundra and Santa Fe are built in the USA vs. 99% of my Chevy Silverado’s built in Canada. One I think was built in Mexico, but NONE in the USA. P.S. my salesman stated at Hyundai dealer this past week that they being a larger dealer of course sells between 130-135 Hyundai’s per month. Hyundai therefore must be doing something right in the marketplace to get that kind of sales volume? This Hyundai dealer (besides GMS pricing of course on all my GM vehicles in the past) was the first salesman to actually go around 250 bucks below dealer invoice right off the bat with no haggle pricing and not charge me for a dealer trade that they had to do along with no charge for the other dealer’s stupid options they added to make money which was 450 bucks for pinstriping and door and fender edge guards which I could do without anyways but decided to leave them on since already glued in place. Hyundai owners manual states though that not everyone will know is the 5/60K bumper to bumper warranty is misleading. The electronics like power windows/locks and radio and bluetooth and speakers/CD along with the paint are only covered the first 3/36K, not 5/60K like it should be. FYI.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    For every Tundra sold, Ford sells 10.4 F150s. Based on your logic, all 9.4 of those F150 buyers has been had by “marketing ploys”. Really expect people to believe that?

  6. mk says:

    Jeffrey, yup!

    Ford and Chevy have had true 1/2 ton trucks (tundra in 2007) much longer than Toyota or Nissan have. Toyota tundra also doesn’t have 4-6K in rebates like Ford and Chevy have on their trucks. No one can tell me dollar for dollar that Ford and/or Chevy have a better engine/tranny combo than the 5.7L V8 4.30 rear axle ratio tundra, bar none!

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Engine/tranny combo mean nothing if the frame isn’t up to par. Besides, the 5.7 isn’t all its cracked up to be in the reliability department and certainly in the MPG department. 15mpg highway with that 4.30.

  8. Brian J says:

    Frame not up to par? Anyone have and frame issues with the Tundra? It is made to flex the same way an 18 wheeler frame is made to flex, or an F-Super Duty for that matter which still has a C-channel frame. My frame has had zero issues to date.

    As far as the drivetrain is concerned: I only have 15k miles on my Tundra, but absolutely no hiccups whatsoever from the driveline both towing and hauling as well as a commuter vehicle. I wouldn’t drive anything else. MPGs are comparable to the competition for the HP it produces. Better MPGs out of the 4.6 if mileage is your interest.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    Even the Ranger, which hasn’t had a significant change in almost 7 years, outsold the Tundra this month.

  10. Mickey says:

    Jefferey do you always talk from the rear? You have no clue in mpg what a 5.7 with a 6 speed tranny can get. I avg 20-21mpg. My sticker shows 20mpg on the hwy. It definitely gets more than your 2010 and earlier models. If the tranny isn’t a big deal why did Ford finally got to it for their trucks? Had to use the Excursion as the fall vehicle to test your new 6 speed tranny. As far as frames I see no difference than your gas tanks falling down on the road. I have an 07 CM with 110,987 miles on mine. No rust at all. Willing to sport the pics if you need them. Also I’m still on my original brake pads with 30-35% on the rear and 40% on the front. Still on original shocks also. Can you say that? Didn’t think so. Now you state reliabilty. Can you answer what manufacturer’s truck has the best resale? There’s your reliability. Until you can do that you’re stuck with the usual blah blah Big three. Jeffery can you tell us how much in % your truck is AMERICAN made? Dang subparts built in Mexico! I guess the peso stops there. Don’t drop the Chulupa baby!

  11. mk says:

    Jeffy, you must be living in lala land. I get the same 17-18 avg. mpg as my former 5.3L chevy V8’s with much more hp/torque. Plus, my frame doesn’t sag as much pulling my trailers/boats as did a little my silverado’s. No experience with Fords though, just Chevys.

  12. Jason (Admin) says:

    Josh – Thanks! Always hoping for that response.

    Cater – True.

    Anthony G – Did you happen to hear about that earthquake and tsunami in Japan that cut Tundra production in half? Toyota cut incentives…which might explain the sales swing.

    mk – Congrats on the Santa Fe. Hyundai is on fire right now, partially because of their great pricing, partially because of their styling, and partially because they keep getting really good reviews for quality. I’m sure you’ll love it.

    Jeffrey – No – marketing has little or nothing to do with Ford’s lead. I say Ford sales figures – or Toyota sales or Honda sales or [BRAND NAME HERE] sales – don’t matter for all of the reasons listed…did you read the whole article before commenting?

  13. mk says:

    Thanks Jason for giving me a thumbs up on buying a Hyundai Santa Fe. I compared appled to apples vs. the comparable equipped RAV4 V6 of which I use to own in 2007 and came out ahead with Hyundai with same hp/torque in V6, much cheaper price, nicer interior, bigger/roomier exterior and interior, and better warranty. So far, so good, let’s hope it stays that way. Agree with your comment to Anthong G. about Toyota cutting incentives, namely rebates. Tundra now has 1K in rebates with nothing even on the Corolla. 2 years ago I got 1250 rebate on my 09′ corolla and 3K rebate on my 2010 tundra. Timing is everything. I wouldn’t buy a Toyota new right now since no rebates to speak of and in short supply thus hard to find dealer willing to sell for dealer invoice like I did on my tundra and corolla and currently 250 bucks below dealer invoice on my 2011 Santa Fe. If marketing had anything to do with sales, Hyundai would be #1 right now since all I ever see on commercials right now is the Hyundai Sonata mid-sized sedan. Very sharp styling both inside and out and very economical and peppy 4 cylinder 200hp getting 35 mpg hwy driving just like my corolla did but much bigger interior and all for 20K out the door price. If Toyota doesn’t step it up a notch and redesign their vehicles both inside and out, Hyundai will lead over Toyota in sales for sure in 2-3 years. Hyundai had bad raps 3-4 years ago and terrible reviews 10 years ago, but the last 1-2 years, they are worth checking out in terms of quality and reliability and styling and mpg. Even the Tucson, despite the choppy ride, is very sporty looking and well equipped and roomy interior. We were going to buy a tucson but the ride was very bumpy (short wheelbase) and the santa fe is much bigger and same price believe it or not in the 4 cylinder model when you factor in the santa fe has a 2,000 rebate right now. Both can be had for 22K out the door price which is not bad considering the 4 cylinder RAV4 would be pushing 23K+ comparably equipped with no rebates.

  14. Jason (Admin) says:

    mk – Toyota and Honda both need to watch out for Hyundai/Kia. Both manufacturers have lost sales to Hyundai/Kia for all the reasons you mentioned. However, it will take a while for Honda and Toyota to be overtaken. Even if Hyundai/Kia builds a significantly better vehicle, it takes years to overcome all that momentum that Toyota and Honda have.

    If it didn’t take a long time, GM and Chrysler would have gone out of business in the 80’s! 🙂

  15. mk says:

    agree on old school GM and Chrysler, besides a few GM vehicles in the 80’s worth buying, most were junk. I owned one of those lemons in the 80’s, my mistake. I guess that is the problem of growing up GM 100% of the time. Brainwashing takes decades to overcome. I’m glad I opened up my mind in 2007 and considered my first non-GM vehicle, the 2007 tundra. Kia is not bad, but Hyundai owns like 40-48% of Kia and without Hyundai, Kia would be dead. When comparing Kia to Hyundai similar models, the Hyundai shined especially interior of the Kia’s were outdated and lacking new, modern styling. My .02 cents. I’ve met dozens of GM and Ford truck fans in my hometown and they will never change their mind even if they know the tundra is a better truck than theirs.

  16. Jason (Admin) says:

    mk – It’s really amazing to me that so many people refuse to consider a particular brand. I can’t think of many consumer products where people absolutely won’t buy BRAND X for no good reason…but maybe I’m not thinking hard enough.

    All I know is, the world would be better off if we were all rationale, thoughtful consumers. Oh well. 🙂

  17. raif says:

    My one and only Toyota was a 1980’s Tercel hatchback. Horrible vehicle; nothing but problems. Turned me off to Toyotas. I have a Ford Focus for city, and Chevy Tahoe for pulling my boat and my trailer. Both vehicles are older, have been very reliable; give me no problems at all. Great vehicles.

  18. Robert says:

    I have owned every brand of truck except Nissan . The tundra is unreliable under heavy work loads. The ford always come out on top for me. 1997 f250 436,000 miles ,
    2004 f140 209,000 miles with no problems, 2002 f350 diesel 740,000 miles replaced 4 injectors and glow plugs.
    look around when you drive through any town and all the old vehicles still on road is a ford. The Rangers and bronco II still on road is amazing. And I do not buy from Japanese companies anymore. My grandpa told me world war 2 stories and I will never forget them. Time doesnt heal all wouds

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