Will Chevy’s Attack on the Aluminum F-150 Dent Ford Sales?

Silverado 1500 LTZ
Source: Chevrolet

It’s a rivalry that goes back to the earliest days of pickup trucks, and one that remains one the most heated contests in the auto industry. Entire generations across America have lived and died by their Ford F-150s or Chevy Silverados, and despite brand loyalty that would make other automakers drool (and a grip on the truck market that perpetually frustrates Ram truck people), neither company is going to stop pumping millions of dollars into their ad campaigns anytime soon. There’s too much at stake, and with Ford and Chevy permanently locked in the number one and two spots, both are looking to enlist new buyers in their battle for pickup truck supremacy.

Back in the ’80s, we watched as Ford F-150s drove up mountains with a Chevy in its bed, and later, while towing a Dodge Ram too. Then, it upped the ante by driving over a row of cars crushed by Bigfoot with a Chevy truck in the bed and Bigfoot in tow. In response, Chevy introduced the new Silverado by driving up a mountain with an F-150 and a Silverado in its bed, while another Chevy tows the entire mountain. Since then, the two have been trading blows pretty consistently, most recently when Chevy took down Ford in a high-budget Super Bowl spot in 2012.

Source: Ford

But despite Chevy’s more memorable jabs, Ford stubbornly holds on to that best-selling vehicle in America title month after month. When its truck was put on an aluminum-based diet and completely redesigned for 2015, there were a lot of uncertainties, and Chevy thought it might have found its opening. But it turns out that America loves the new F-150 – so much, in fact, that they’re willing to pay an average $44,000 for one. With the next-generation Silverado still almost two years away, Chevy has launched a new ad campaign that’s designed to raise doubt in the public’s mind over the Blue Oval’s decision to use aluminum in its trucks, and hopefully make gains with undecided truck shoppers.

Source: Chevrolet

The trio of ads, which according to Automotive News were met with “resounding approval” when they were shown at a national Chevy dealership meeting earlier in the year, call into question the complexity and cost of the new Fords with the subtlety of a mudslinging political ad. One commercial is hidden-camera style and shows people at a comic convention being shown a sneak preview of Aluminum Man, a wimpy and poorly-designed character with a suit made out of old cans. Of course, we’re supposed to think that since there’s a Man of Steel and not an Aluminum Man in comic book lore, a steel truck would trump an aluminum one.

In another ad, Chevy unleashes a grizzly bear on people and gives them the choice of going into either a steel or aluminum cage. Unsurprisingly, the steel cage is chosen every time. In the final spot, longtime pitchman Howie Long hosts a comparison with a Chevy engineer that declares Chevy’s “tried and true” engineering methods make Ford’s trucks more expensive and harder to repair.

Source: Ford Motor Company
Source: Ford

Unsurprisingly, Ford hasn’t found any of this funny, and responded quickly. Not with an ad, but with this statement:

“The 2015 Ford F-150 is designed so sections of the truck are easier to repair in the event of an accident, significantly reducing time of repair and saving costs. Insurance rates are comparable with the previous F-150 and other full-size pickup trucks in the light-duty segment.”

And this is where it gets complicated: The Howie Long spot raises some serious points about the Ford. As confirmed by Edmunds.com’s independent testing, the F-150 is in uncharted waters, and with aluminum bodywork still relatively exotic, repairs are time-intensive and can cost nearly twice as much as steel bodywork.

But Chevy could be getting itself into trouble by making this an aluminum issue. In the comparison ad, Chevy’s engineer declares: “at Chevy, we rely on what’s proven,” but by all accounts, the 2017 Silverado will also going on a high-aluminum diet. While the ads are online-only for now, they could come back to haunt the bowtie brand if Ford wants to dig them up in a year or two.

It doesn’t look like aluminum is going away anytime soon. Brands like Land Rover, Audi, and Jaguar have used aluminum body panels for decades, and while its rarity and specialized skill can make repairs costly, the switch by America’s best-selling vehicle’s means that the lightweight tech is ready for prime time, and 357,180 buyers so far this year seem to agree. A weight loss of 700 pounds, improved fuel economy, and better handling is pretty tough to dismiss, especially if Chevy is buying into it too. So Chevy, Ford, if you want to lure new buyers, do what you do best; stop with the political-style smear tactics and go back to towing each other up mountains and blowing each other up in the apocalypse.

Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS