Ford used a meeting of the Future Farmers of America in Texas on Monday to show the updated 2013 F-150 that will go on sale this fall against a Dodge Ram with a new V6 engine.
At the same time, Ford and Chrysler are bracing for the next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra due early next year as competition heats up in one of the industry's more profitable segments.
Full-size pickup trucks account for about 10% of the U.S. market.
The 2013 F-150 adds a new Limited luxury package to the lineup, and all trim levels received cosmetic changes to the front end and improved connectivity inside.
The four luxury models get the MyFord Touch system with an 8-inch screen while others get the version of Sync that debuted on the new F-Series super-duty trucks that has a 4.2-inch screen and larger manual knobs that can be used with work gloves.
The new F-150 also has available high-density discharge headlamps and some new wheels.
"We're always looking to up our game and will continue to do that," Doug Scott, marketing manager for the Ford truck group, said in an interview.
The new F-150 will go up against the next generation of pickups from GM.
Official details on GM's Silverado and Sierra models have not been released, but the trucks are expected to be lighter for fuel efficiency and have a new direct-injection V8.
As for Dodge, the 2013 Ram on sale this fall has a new, more fuel-efficient V6 to try to make inroads against the popularity of Ford's V6 engines, which include the turbocharged EcoBoost option that debuted on the F-150 with the 2011 model year.
"We're conscious of what the other guys are doing," said Scott, the marketing manager for Ford's truck group.
May was the 13th month that Ford sold more F-150s with a V6 -- 56% -- than with a V8. The V6 EcoBoost option has become an effective tool to promote the automaker's fuel efficiency.
"The others are playing catch-up," Scott said. "If you look at our cadence, we've been the most aggressive."
Ford did not make any powertrain changes for the 2013 model year. Scott would not comment on plans for the 2014 model.
"As the economy picks up, it should be good for pickup sales for the next 12 months," said product analyst Stephanie Brinley of EMC Strategic Communications in Troy. "It is hugely important business that won't go away because most buyers still in the market for a truck need a truck."
The updates also support Ford's commitment to keep its older products fresh, Brinley said.
New entries from the competition are good for everyone, Scott said. "Increased activity in the segment benefits us more than anyone because we're on everyone's shopping list," he said.
Scott said he thinks the full-size truck segment could increase to about 11% in the next five years, but will not return to the peak in 2004-05 when sales were in the 2.5-million range and they were 15% of the U.S. market.
Ford's use of the Future Farmers of America for Monday's event reflected the automaker's support of the organization. For the 2011-12 academic year, the Built Ford Tough Scholarship Program and 285 participating dealerships gave 540 Future Farmers grants worth $1,000 each for their post-high school education.
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