F-150 Relaunch Carries a Lot of Importance for Ford

From Associated Press

Ford Motor Co. unveiled its redesigned F-150 on Monday, the newest entry in its profitable F-series line of trucks and the one executives call crucial to its success.

Nick Scheele, Ford's president and chief operating officer, has called the F-150 relaunch the firm's most important event in 2003 -- when Ford also celebrates its 100th year.

The F-series accounts for about a quarter of the company's sales and was the best-selling vehicle in the nation last year. It was the 21st year in a row that Ford's full-size line of pickups topped the U.S. sales charts.

"There's no way to overstate its importance," Executive Vice President Jim Padilla said Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The last change to the F-150 was in the 1997 model, said Ford division President Steve Lyons, and this one took more than three years to develop.

"This is all brand new. There is nothing left over from the original," Lyons said.

The F-150 has a 5.4-liter, V-8 engine producing 300-horsepower, which Ford says is a 15% improvement from its previous 5.4-liter engine. The cargo box is more than 2 inches deeper and the passenger compartment is 6 inches longer. The cab also has rearward-swinging doors that give easy access to cargo space.

"We think the product is going to be so strong," Padilla said. "No. 1, it's going to sell very well; No. 2, we'll get good margins on the vehicle, less rebates. ... And we think it'll be strong in terms of volume and it's coming at the right time."

Analyst Mike Wall, with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based IRN Inc., said Ford did a "bang-up job" on the new F-150, particularly on the interior.

But Wall said there can be a cost downside to having so many options and additional features.

"Ford has struggled in a way with pulling cost out of their manufacturing," Wall said.

Ford will start building the 2004 F-150 in June to hit showroom floors in August.

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