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Hell Thaws a Bit, Ford Pulls Ahead F-150 Launch

image 2009 Ford F-150Hell has thawed out, a little.

I was agog, and said "hell froze over," when Ford announced in June that it was postponing the launch of the next-generation Ford F-150 pickup. The F-150 is still (for now) the nation's best-selling vehicle, despite the beating it's taking this year in sales, along with other full-size pickups and just about every other kind of truck.

Ford said then that it would postpone the launch for "two months" until "late fall," to give dealers a chance to sell down an oversupply of the lame-duck 2008 model, before rolling out the all-new 2009 model.

Meanwhile, F-150 sales fell and fell -- down 41.6 percent in September, for instance, and down 26.9 percent year-to-date after nine months, to 392,698 according to AutoData Corp. That's still No. 1 in America, but the Chevy Silverado and the Toyota Camry are catching up. The F-150 even got outsold in May by two Toyotas and two Hondas, for the first time ever.

Ford has since begun to concede that the F-150 may lose its status as the No. 1-selling vehicle in America, car or truck, after an incredible 26 years in a row.

As F-150 sales fell, that "late fall" launch for the new F-150 turned out to be real, real late fall â€" in fact, December.

But earlier this month, Ford announced it was pulling ahead the long-postponed F-150 national marketing launch by a month, to November. Not only that, but dealers were expected to start receiving 2009 models this month.

"People are saying what an awful time to be launching a full-size pickup," said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president, marketing and communications, in an Oct. 1 conference call.

He's got that right. Sales of large pickups were down about 25 percent this year through September, according to AutoData.

"But it's really the best time to launch a Ford F-150," Farley insisted. For the guy in charge of marketing, that's the right attitude. But if now is the "best time" to launch a big pickup, then hell will freeze over â€" again.

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