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Old 09-29-2003, 05:49   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Ford pulls towing switcheroo to outfox Nissan Titan

By James R. Healey and Earle Eldridge, USA TODAY

Ford Motor says it gave out a phony towing number for its 2004 F-150 pickup, hoping to bait a rival into matching what Ford knew was an artificially low number.

The ambush worked. Nissan rated its 2004 Titan full-size pickup to tow 9,500 pounds, same as the F-150. Titan goes on sale in December. F-150 went on sale in August.

Now Ford says that the F-150 can tow as much as 9,900 pounds. Those few pounds of difference could account for thousands of sales won or lost.

Among truck shoppers, "Towing capacity is way up there. In some cases, it's more important than horsepower," says Nissan truck chief Larry Dominique. "Even people who don't own anything to tow tell us that someday they might. So towing is always in the purchase consideration."

Ford and Nissan use similar but not identical tests to determine towing capacity. Both have trucks pull loaded trailers on hilly terrain in Arizona heat. The goal is to strain the engine and transmission over several miles to near breakdown.

Top-drawer specifications are especially important to Nissan because it must win some Detroit-brand loyalists to hit Titan's sales goal of 100,000 a year. Those shoppers are "import rejecters," Dominique says, so Titan was designed to "wow them" with the big numbers important to truck buyers.

F-150 is equally important to Ford. Its F-Series trucks have been the USA's best-selling vehicles the past 21 years.

No apologies for sandbagging a competitor, says Ford brand President Steve Lyons. The truck market is "high-stakes poker," justifying unorthodox means of getting an advantage, he says. "We make a lot of money on (F-150), and it's a huge piece of our dealer profitability."

"We thought we would put a conservative number out there to see what the competition would do," Lyons says. "We knew we could do better than 9,500."

Dominique says he understands, even appreciates, the maneuver: "Everybody tries to market their best numbers. ... Their launch is important to them, as Titan's is to us, and they're looking for every 'best-in-class' they can find because they can't match our powertrain numbers." Titan's standard V-8 engine is more powerful than Ford's most-powerful, optional V-8, and Titan boasts a five-speed automatic transmission to F-150's four-speed.

Dominique sees a silver lining in getting foxed by Ford: "When a well-established player in the segment has to use my truck as a comparison, that's a lot of instant credibility. If they have to react to us, we're obviously doing something right."
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