June 28, 2019 / 10:03 AM / 19 days ago

RPT-FOCUS-Ram tough: FCA turns up the heat on GM and Ford in U.S. truck sales war

(Repeats story originally published on Thursday.)

By Nick Carey, Paul Lienert and Joseph White

DETROIT, June 27 (Reuters) - At Planet Ford, which boasts it is the No. 1 Ford volume dealer in the Houston area, customers shopping for a 2019 F-150 pickup truck can get discounts from Ford Motor Co of more than $8,000 - and that is just the start.

The dealership’s website lists a dozen other ways for truck buyers to get a price cut: being a student, a member of the military or a first-responder organization, a season-ticket holder for the National Football League’s Houston Texans, or a member of the Farm Bureau.

“Ford is a sponsor of the Houston Rodeo, and offers an additional $1,000 rebate on the F-150 to people who volunteer with the rodeo,” said Aaron Smith, general sales manager at Planet Ford.

Rodeo fans would feel right at home watching the frenzied competition in the U.S. large pickup truck market.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) , General Motors Co and Ford escalated a price war in June in one of the few vehicle market segments on the planet that offers substantial profits - and one in which the three Detroit automakers enjoy an oligopoly, shielded by heavy tariffs on foreign competition.

During the past month, dealers for FCA’s Ram truck brand, GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks and Ford’s F-series truck line have been offering discounts of up to 30% or more off the list price. The GMC brand is promoting June as “Truck Month,” signaling to consumers that deep discounts are on offer until the close of the sales reporting period, July 1.

U.S. automakers report June and second-quarter sales next week.

DRAMATIC DISCOUNTS

While the heavy discounts are available in much of the country, not all dealers are offering such deals. More popular limited-production models such as Ford’s F-150 Raptor are selling for full retail price.

Overall, discounts on light-duty pickup trucks in June have averaged $5,250, 11% higher than the year-to-date average of $4,726, according to market research firm J.D. Power.

The price-cutting is unusual because FCA’s Ram brand and GM’s Chevrolet and GMC brands launched new versions of their large pickups within the last year. Normally, automakers avoid major discounts on freshly redesigned vehicles.

But these are not normal times. FCA Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley said last year he wants to move the Ram pickup line into second place in U.S. sales, displacing Silverado and closing the gap with Ford’s F-series, the segment leader for 42 years.

The new Ram has received enthusiastic reviews for its stylish interior and optional 12-inch (30.5 cm) display screen, and sales are up nearly 22% this year through May, selling 22,000 more vehicles than the Silverado.

“Clearly, FCA is trying to grab market share while GM is still ramping up,” said Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs.

FCA said in a statement on Thursday the automaker will “stick with what works for us.”

BALANCED APPROACH

GM is under pressure to deliver as much as $10 billion in free cash flow in the final three quarters of 2019 to hit its full-year target, amid stagnant U.S. demand and plummeting industry sales in China.

GM will report second-quarter U.S. sales on July 2. Automotive News estimated Silverado sales fell 11.8% through May, while sales of the higher-priced GMC Sierra were up 4%.

“We will defend our franchise and we will do it the right way,” said Barry Engle, head of GM’s North American operations. “We’re not going to just roll over and allow our truck business to be taken away from us.”

Engle said Silverado sales numbers in part reflect an effort to build more higher-margin Sierras aimed at buyers willing to spend extra dollars on a luxury truck.

Ford, which has the oldest pickup truck in the market, had flat F-series sales through the end of May.

“It’s a bit unprecedented,” said Ford’s truck marketing manager, Todd Eckert, of the heavy discounting so early in the life cycle of his rivals’ trucks.

Ford will defend its position, but not at any cost, he said: “It’s about having a balanced approach.”

Because incentives erode profit margins, the automakers continue to juggle discounts against diminished margins.

“This is a segment that has been profitable for all of us,” said GM’s Engle. “We’d like to keep it that way.”

Reporting by Nick Carey, Paul Lienert and Joseph White in Detroit Editing by Matthew Lewis

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