D E T R O I T, Jan. 7, 2003 -- Question: What's the most popular vehicle sold in this country?
Answer: the Ford F-series pickup truck.
That's right, the F-series has beaten all competitors — truck or car — for the last 21 years.
It helps to explain why Ford feels so strongly about its truck fleet and why it has crossed its fingers and hoped for the best as the F-series has undergone its first makeover in seven years.
With one out of every four vehicles Ford sells being a truck, the fate of the F-series is critical to the fortunes of a company that lost more than $5 billion a year ago.
So it's no surprise to find Ford looking to broaden the base of truck buyers.
Where are Ford executives looking?
"A lot more women are buying a pickup truck for themselves, for their lifestyle," said automotive journalist Courtney Caldwell, of American Women Road and Travel. "That's what it is. It's about lifestyle."
Ford Marketing New Comfort
So Ford is responding.
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, Ford marketing manager Jeff Marentic said the new F-150 models are different.
"We have dialed up comfort on this vehicle and we've dialed up convenience on this vehicle," he said.
The F-150 Lariat, which will be available in late summer, looks almost like a Jaguar on the inside, with plush leather seats and plenty of chrome.
"It offers levels of craftsmanship, levels of options, levels of features that you would never think you would find in a pickup truck," says Marentic.
The F-150s now have vanity mirrors, standard runningboards, softer seats and even DVD players to occupy toddlers in the back seat. They also have pedals that adjust for smaller drivers. The vehicle is lower overall than its predecessors.
Shelley Bertucci of suburban Chicago is at the forefront of the trend toward women in pickups. She owns a Ford pickup and drives her four kids around town in it. She also says it has a certain cachet that other vehicles do not possess.
"l have guys that wave to me and I don't even know who they are," she said. "They just wave because they see the truck and they see who's driving it and they're just amazed."
Don’t Be Intimidated
Bertucci says women should not be intimidated by a truck: "If you can drive a minivan or even a big conversion van, you can drive a truck."
Debbie Warneke agrees. She just bought a pickup at a dealership near Dallas because she found it "nice and comfy" — not the kind of adjectives usually associated with pickups.
Ford's competitors are not standing still. Chevrolet's Silverado now offers an array of amenities that would make your average plumber or bricklayer blush.
And out on Interstate 94 near the Detroit airport you will find a huge billboard of an old Chevy pickup truck featuring a dog and a woman perched on the hood — one of the first times a woman has been used in an ad, without a man in sight, to sell trucks.
Want to join the pickup trend? It will cost you $20,000 to $40,000.