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A new high-stakes marketing battle has erupted between rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. that involves the top-selling vehicles in the U.S.

Lawyers for Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division fired off a letter in early January to attorneys for GM's Chevrolet division, expressing concern over the methodology Chevy used in a test showing its soon-to-be-launched Silverado pickup truck beating Ford's F-Series pickup in a 0-to-80-to-0 mph test.


Executives familiar with the situation said Ford's options if its concerns are not satisfied include filing a lawsuit or a lodging a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Chevy showed a video of the test -- filmed last August at GM's Milford, Mich., proving grounds -- to the press at the Detroit auto show early this month, and indicated it would be used in advertising. The film shows the trucks speeding from 0-80 and then braking to a stop again.

"The Ford looks like it's standing still," said a former auto executive who saw the video from the first test at the auto show.

Chevy later did a second 0-to-80-to-0 test with Silverado and the F-Series that also included a Dodge Ram pickup, with similar results. Footage from that test appears in a 30-minute Silverado infomercial.

The infomercial, hosted by the Baltimore Orioles' Cal Ripen, broke Jan. 10 on cable's Odyssey Channel and will air throughout the month.

Visual Services Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Mich., produced the infomercial; Chevy's national agency, Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., wasn't involved.

Ford wrote its letter before the infomercial broke, based on the film shown at the auto show.


Ford F-Series has been the best-selling U.S. vehicle, car or truck, for 16 straight years. Ford sold 746,111 F-Series pickups last year, according to Automotive News. Chevy's C/K pickup, which will be replaced by Silverado later this year, was the second-best-selling vehicle in 1997, with 553,729 units.

"When you're No. 1 . . . there are occasionally competitors who are going to make some comparisons," said Jim Bright, public affairs manager of Ford Division. But, he said, "We are concerned . . . about a questionable test. It's important to note that this was a test for Chevrolet to be used in a spot they paid to produce and show using their own engineers.

"The test compares a phantom truck that won't be on the market for at least another six to eight months with a truck that's out there working hard for our customers today and every day," he added.

Chevy said it stands by both tests.

"I'm not surprised Ford is worried over the tests. They should be," said Kurt Ritter, brand manager of the Silverado and C/K pickups.


GM and Ford tangled over trucks just last year, when GM challenged claims in ads for Ford's Expedition of best-in-class for room and towing because the ads left out the GMC and Chevy Suburbans.

NAD sided with Ford in that dispute, saying the Suburbans weren't improperly excluded from Ford's ads (via J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit), because the competitors' sport-utility vehicles were different sizes.

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