Ford expands 2011 F-Series pickup shipments

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT | Thu Dec 2, 2010 9:24pm EST

DETROIT (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co (F.N) on Thursday began shipping its best-selling F-series pickup trucks for the new model year from the second of two assembly plants as it ramps up to full production, the company said.

Four new engines will be introduced in the F-series pickups for 2011. The base version of the F-150, with a 3.7-liter V6 engine, is seen as a key to the automaker’s effort to raise fuel economy ratings across its lineup because of its high sales volume.

Ford also began shipping 5-liter and 6.2-liter V8 pickup trucks from both of its F-series truck plants on Thursday.

Production of Ford’s much-anticipated 3.5-liter, turbo-charged “Ecoboost” F-150 pickup will begin in early 2011. It is expected to use far less fuel and still have more power than the larger V8 engine it replaces. But some dealers say it will take some convincing for full-sized pickup truck buyers to accept six-cylinder trucks.

Federal fuel economy ratings for the turbo-charged truck have not yet been established.

Ford’s 2010 F-series pickup trucks are on pace to finish the year as the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. market for the 34th consecutive year, said George Pipas, Ford sales analyst.

Ford expects that four new engines in its 2011 F-series pickups will help it increase its sales lead over General Motors Co (GM.N) and its Chevrolet and GMC lineup of pickup trucks, led by the Chevy Silverado.

In October, F-Series light-duty pickups were briefly eclipsed in sales by GM’s line of pickups. In November, the F-Series went back on top.

Pipas said that the F-Series this month will top 500,000 in sales for the year. That would be up from 413,625 in 2009.

Pickup trucks sales are down sharply from earlier this decade, when F-Series trucks reached a peak of 939,511 in 2004, Pipas said. But so were total auto sales, which are expected to end 2010 near 11.5 million vehicles, compared with about 17 million in 2004.

The F-150 3.7-liter V6 pickup is rated at 23 miles per gallon on the highway and 17 mpg in city driving, the best among gasoline-powered full-sized pickup trucks, according to U.S. government figures.

The shipments that began last week from Ford’s main truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan also began to clear out holding parking lots for F-Series pickups at the abandoned Wixom, Michigan plant. A few thousand trucks were held in company lots around Detroit after production in Dearborn.

About two-thirds of Ford’s F-Series pickups are made at its Dearborn truck plant, and the rest at its Kansas City, Missouri plant. The Dearborn plant and the holding lots near Detroit began shipping to dealers mainly by rail last week, and the Kansas City plant began shipping on Thursday, Ford said.

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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