Losing momentum: Ford's truck lead narrows

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With its lead in trucks fast disappearing to rival General Motors Chevrolet, Ford Motor Co. has high expectations for the 2003 Expedition, the only new truck model this year from the Ford Motor Co. brand.

"It's a very important launch," said Rich Stoddart, marketing communications manager of the Ford Motor Co. brand. No wonder: Ford's margin over Chevy through April was just 46,558 units, and Chevy's truck sales rose 14.3% in the period while Ford's fell 8.4% vs. a year ago. Last year, Ford sold 464,926 more trucks than Chevy, according to Automotive News; the last time Chevy trucks outsold Ford's was 1985.

The Expedition full-size sport utility was segment leader when it was introduced in fall `96. The only competitive offerings, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet and GMC Suburban (now the Yukon XL). Consultant Maryann Keller said Ford "was able to succeed beyond their wildest expectations because they were the only game in town."

Expedition gets an estimated $20 million sendoff today via national broadcast, cable TV and print ads from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Detroit. Doug Walczak, marketing manager of Expedition, said the SUV won't hit showrooms until "later this spring." He added the plan was to get the word out early about what he called seven best-in-class or exclusive features.

Ford is in the midst of a revitalization plan after a more than $5 billion global loss last year. When announcing Ford's $800 million first-quarter loss last month, executives said that plan is on track. But Ford will have to decide whether truck profitability or bragging rights is worth the money it will have to spend on incentives and advertising, said Jim Hall, VP at consultancy AutoPacific, adding that rival GM is in better financial shape and has been gaining ground.

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