INCREASED numbers of chassis pools, less stringent restrictions on pickup box removals, and more efficient production of medium-duty trucks were some of the topics of the Ford Motor Company chassis session at the NTEA convention.
The manufacturer is considering the addition of five to 10 pool accounts during the next 12 months, according to Jerry Mittman, recreational and special vehicle sales manager. He also said Ford is considering offering medium trucks through chassis pools. Chassis pools are a marketing program for light-duty trucks. Expanding its pool program to include medium-duty trucks would reflect Ford's strategy of integrating the entire F-Series line.
Mittman quickly emphasized that truck equipment distributors are important to Ford-including those that do not have a chassis pool.
"Only about 15% of F-Series chassis cab production in recent years has gone into chassis pools," he said. "That means that 85% has not gone into pools. We are not going to change that dramatically. We will have more pools, maybe five or 10 more companies in the next 12 months."
Ford will select companies for its pool program based on the types of potential pool operators in a particular area, the proximity of existing Ford pool accounts, and the activities of competitive truck manufacturers.
Engineering Update Alex Jowa with the Ford Body Builders Advisory Service updated NTEA members on recent activities in his area, which is a primary interface between the truck equipment industry and Ford engineering. Among his announcements:
The Ford body builders book is available now on CD-ROM, and the company plans to post it on the Internet. No special CAD drawings will be available. Some distributors had requested that Ford provide chassis drawings in AutoCAD format.
Remote throttle control will be available on diesel only, later this year. The control will fit models as far back as 1995.
Because of the large volume of calls the department receives, Ford is changing the telephone number of the Body Builders Advisor Service. The department also will have a dedicated fax line. "We are taking 6,000 calls per year," Jowa said. "With the launch of the new Super Duty, we expect to take 8,000 calls annually. NTEA will publish the number when it is available. We are trying to limit the calls to those people who need to speak to someone with the Body Builders Advisory Service. Don't give the number to your customers."
Ford is testing the F-250 and F-350 (under 10,000 pounds GVWR) to determine if current restrictions for pickup box removal can be liberalized. The present limit for the vertical center of gravity is 16 inches.
"We will be able to increase that to 17.6 inches, Jowa said. "With ongoing engineering analysis, we may be able to increase it further." Regarding the removal of SuberCab and crew cab pickup boxes, Ford plans to raise the CG limit to 24 inches. As the new limits go into effect, they will be included in the incomplete vehicle manual and the body builders book scheduled for publication in June.
Medium-Duty Strategies Ford's Tom Steckel shared some of the company strategies for the medium-duty truck market. He reported that:
Ford has decided to build medium-duty trucks at its plant in Mexico City. This is the same plant that builds half of the Ford Contour production.
The company has simplified the lineup of medium-duty trucks. "You can't make efficient use of your resources if you try to do everything for everybody," Steckel said. "We decided to concentrate on things that make sense."
GVWRs have been trimmed. Under the terms of the contract with Freightliner, Ford cannot offer a truck with a GVWR above 33,000 pounds. Because of the federal excise tax on heavier trucks (above 33,000 pounds GVWR) and the commercial driver license requirement on trucks rated above 26,000 pounds GVW, sales tend to concentrate immediately below these two thresholds.
"We used to sell trucks rated at 27,000, 28,000, and 29,000 pounds," Steckel said. "We aren't selling those ratings anymore, and no dealer would stock them. They want to stock what sells, and only the 26,000-pound and 33,000-pound GVW ratings are selling."
Ford also decided to stop offering gasoline engines in these models. "A few in the market still want gasoline engines, but it is a market that has been shrinking over the years," Steckel said. "We decided not to expand our line of gasoline engines for the amount of sales out there. Unfortunately, that also affected our LPG engines, because they are based on our gasoline engines. We are looking into ways that we can address this in the future."
Limited options. Ford is beginning to manufacture medium-duty trucks as well as light-duty models with limited options.
"People think that they need all of these unique things on their medium-duty trucks," Steckel said. "But no one makes money doing a lot of odd little things, and I think the other manufacturers will come to the same conclusion. We will be able to offer a better product and keep prices well in line.
Answers to Questions A question-and-answer session followed the formal presentations. Among the things NTEA members wanted to know:
Question: What is your position about mounting components on the front of your engines?
Mike Duval: The Triton engine currently is not robust enough to hang excessive horsepower options from it. We know that has been a desire of this industry. There has been a lot of activity at Ford to develop a kit that will allow you to install items such as clutch pumps. We hope that in the next month or two, we will be able to announce something that will give you some help in this area.
Question: Will medium-duty trucks be available for export?
Question: What is the marketing plan for selling medium-duty trucks?
Steckel: The F-800 currently is equipped only with the Cummins diesel engine. To sell the F-800, Cummins must certify the Ford dealer. About 500 dealers have Cummins certification. Getting that certification is between Cummins and the Ford dealer.
Question: What mid-sized chassis are available from Ford now in a 108-inch CA?
Jowa: The 108-inch CA is not available now. We are studying a plan to make one available.
Duval: We believe we will have one available sometime this year.
Question: Will you offer the Cummins diesel on the F-Super Duty? Kevin FitzPatrick: Ford has a long-term agreement with Navistar to supply the 7.3-liter diesel. We have no immediate plans to have any joint ventures with Cummins for engines to power the F-Super Duty line. The medium-duty trucks, though, will have the 5.9-liter Cummins diesel.