The Pettiness of Pickup Sales

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With Ram having surpassed Chevrolet as North America’s number two truck brand, automotive outlets everywhere rushed to report on it — we sure did.

Unfortunately, General Motors hasn’t been fond of the framing used to discuss the matter. Tough cookies, right? Well, the situation is pretty nuanced and we should always strive to be thorough. GM officially still trumps Fiat Chrysler in terms of overall full-size pickup sales, thanks to the one-two punch of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. And the company is also keen to point out that Ram’s volume has been inflated by the previous-generation 1500 being sold alongside the new version as a “Classic” model.

GM feels that this has made FCA’s win less legitimate and takes umbrage with the media sensationalizing the news as it prepares to totally destroy Ram by making a “massive move in full-size pickups” that will absolutely blow the doors off anything you could have possibly imagined. Insane! 

Alright, I’m teasing. But GM’s recent statement to The Detroit News, simultaneously criticized the media for being hyperbolic while fanning the flames. “The thing everybody needs to remember about this sensationalized Ram versus Chevrolet sales battle is that Rome won the Pyrrhic War,” said GM spokesman Jim Cain. “They’ve indicated they’re gonna stay on offense. That’s fine. We are about to make a massive move in full-size pickups.”

If you need to brush up on your ancient history (kudos to GM hiring someone so well read, by the way), the Pyrrhic War was a five-year engagement between Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, and Roman Republic. However, the point is that it’s often used as an example of winning a war at a cost that effectively negates a real victory. Epirus won important battles, but ultimately lost the war due to the staggering amount of casualties the Romans inflicted upon its army.

An apt analogy, we suppose, but it doesn’t exactly shy away from the sensationalism GM seemingly wanted to avoid. But what fun would that be, really? Without a bit of pettiness and some corporate grandstanding, the truck war would be a absolute snooze-fest. Automotive rivalries are a big part of what gets me out of the bed in the morning and the main reason most brands even bother to up their game.

From The Detroit News:

GM and Cain maintain that selling a discounted Ram Classic alongside the new Ram light- and heavy-duty models will come back to bite FCA eventually. FCA leadership, meanwhile, has said their sales strategy is paying off. Ram Classic discounts meant Ram’s previous full-size model cost less than a new GM midsize truck.

“Ram has been on a tear since we made the strategic decision to enter the year with a three-truck strategy,” FCA U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement. “The new Ram 1500, Ram Classic and Heavy Duty are all generating a huge response from customers and critics alike. This is now the third month Ram pickup sales have surpassed 60,000 since December. Our dealers had a steady stream of customers all month long.”

“It’s an extremely strong pickup market,” said Michelle Krebs, industry analyst with Cox Automotive. “But this is not some kind of new game. New trucks are expensive, and there are truck buyers that don’t care if they have the previous generation, and they get it deeply discounted. It’s how the game is played, and they all play it.”

General Motors recently said that it would begin reporting Silverado and Sierra heavy and light-duty truck sales separately, likely in a bid to push Ford and FCA to do the same. However, Ford has no incentive to do so as it’s F-Series is nearly assured to remain the volume leader for some time. And total volume is what matters most. Big trucks provide big margins for automakers and the more they sell, the more dough comes rolling in the front door — which is a point for GM over FCA.

So far this year, FCA has sold 299,480 Ram pickups against GM’s combined Silverado and Sierra volume of 352,866. Meanwhile, Ford’s siting pretty at 448,398 F-Series deliveries.

Although, the General has continued losing ground with both light and HD pickups enduring weakening sales vs last year. GM claims this is the result of it continuing to ramp up the all-new models. True, but we’d imagine the vehicles themselves retain some onus. The Ram 1500 has been a media darling (it’s quite good) while the Silverado was dinged for its polarizing appearance and less comfortable ride (handles well for a truck, though).

Your opinions may vary, which is fine, but the point is that GM isn’t likely to shrug this off. It’s going to make excuses and play it cool, sure, but then it’ll build a more-competitive truck and come after FCA’s throat — which should be a lot of fun to watch. The more they keep fighting, the better.

[Image: General Motors

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