F-SERIES PICKUPS GRIND DOWN FORD RIVALS

CHEVY FIRES ITS BEST SHOT, WHILE TOYOTA MISSES BY A COUNTRY MILE

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The Ford F-Series pickup truck appeared vulnerable, so new rivals expected 1993 would be the year.

But, in the end, Ford left the other full-size pickups in the dust again.

The F-Series didn't just finish on top in the segment; for the 12th straight year, it was America's top selling vehicle-car or truck.

Archrival Chevrolet made it interesting for a while, but couldn't build enough trucks to catch Ford, according to J.C. "Jim" Perkins, VP-general manager of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division.

"We sold every C/K we could get our hands on," Mr. Perkins says.

At the end of October, Chevrolet trailed Ford by a scant 928 units. That put the Ford division sales machine into high gear.

Just like in 1992, when the Ford Taurus edged past the Honda Accord as the best-selling car in the U.S., Ford General Manager Ross Roberts set up a "war room," complete with a map detailing sales in each zone. Ford executives used the room to call dealers to discuss daily sales.

Underscoring the importance of winning, Ford offered dealers a $2,000 incentive on trucks they added to their own rental fleets.

Coming down to the wire, Chevy sold 53,974 full-size pickups in December, a 54.8% increase from the same month the year before. But Ford sold a whopping 67,310 F-Series trucks in December, up 68.8% from the year earlier period.

The sales battle helped make it a banner year in full-size pickup sales, with the segment up 19.5%.

The segment has long been regarded as a barometer for the U.S. economy, because pickups are used in such areas as construction and agriculture.

However, with pickups becoming more car-like in recent years, an increasing number of buyers use them for both business and personal driving.

"Ford and Chevrolet had such big years, it's almost as if the other entities didn't exist," says Jim Wangers, senior managing partner with Automotive Marketing Consultants.

The Ford/Chevrolet battle overshadowed the debut of the Toyota T100, first introduced in late 1992, and a redesigned Dodge Ram that came onto the market in October 1993.

Most observers had predicted Toyota Motor Sales USA would make a bigger dent with its entry, which is slightly smaller than domestic full-size pickups. The T100 couldn't overcome the lack of a V-8 engine and prices forced up by the strong yen, as well as the 25% tariff on imported trucks, says Mr. Wangers.

Chrysler Corp.'s Dodge weighed in with a strikingly designed new Ram, and more personal-use choices designed into the interior, including a fold-down console with compartments for a cellular phone and portable computer.

But the new Ram's story is yet to be told. The well-received vehicle could be a much bigger player this year as production increases.

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