Ford trucks retain their top slot by undergoing a makeover
November 22, 2011UNITED STATES
Area of innovation: Product systems
Ford's F-Series pickup trucks have been available in the United States for six decades with an established reputation for performance and reliability, and have been the country's best-selling pickups for the past 30 years. As a result, the F-Series had become Ford's single most valued product category and brand. In 2005, Ford held nearly 37 per cent of the market.
However, the truck market was expected to shrink significantly and increasingly strong competitors were matching the F-150's signature features around power, towing capacity and toughness, making it harder for Ford to stand out. Digital technology was outpacing Ford's own platform development, and the enormous cost of tooling and setting up manufacturing meant that standard vehicle platforms evolved very slowly.
OTHER CASE STUDIES: Ford | GE | Toshiba-UPS | Hollard-PEP | Safaricom
In order to retain market leadership and reverse the decline in share, Ford knew it needed to move beyond product performance. Ford went about understanding not just the functional aspects of trucks, but also how a core consumer group - general contractors and construction workers - went about its everyday work life and the role Ford's trucks played in it.
Ford's innovation has certainly helped it maintain the F-Series pickups' market leadership, though market share has fallen from 37 per cent in 2005 to 32 per cent in 2011 (January-October). Still, F-Series is way ahead of second-placed Chevrolet Silverado pickups' 23 per cent share.
With the surveys in, Ford introduced a collection of integrated technologies into its F-Series pickups in 2008 under the Ford Work Solutions, or FWS, package. These were created to provide better connectivity, flexibility and security to this consumer group. It included four innovative non-traditional features that expanded the product system. It had the first broadbandcapable in-dash computer that allowed customers to print invoices, check inventories and access documents stored in other networks. It also included Tool Link, an asset tracking system that enabled customers to maintain a detailed realtime inventory of the tools or equipment in their pickup boxes. Third, Crew Chief, a fleet tracking, telematics and diagnostics system, which provided dynamic location and performance data that fleet owners need for more efficient fleet and crew management. And fourth, Cable Lock, a security system that discouraged theft of expensive tools.
Ford was proactive in using partnerships to develop the above hardware and software systems to ensure their reliability in use and relevance with contractors. The in-dash computer was developed with Magneti Marelli using Microsoft Auto software and connecting to the Sprint Mobile Broadband network. Tool Link was developed with DeWALT and Cable Lock in partnership with Master Lock. These strategic partnerships allowed Ford to integrate new technologies at a much more rapid pace, and significantly accelerated the original timeline for putting informatics into F-Series trucks.
FWS was launched to wide acclaim after 18 months in development, compared with the average four-year design-to-launch cycle. Within months, incremental sales exceeded the total cost of development. It has also caused many business owners to consider changing over entire fleets to Ford trucks.
FWS helped sustain F-150's leadership position in the truck category, was recognised as the North American Truck of the Year and was quickly extended to other Ford vehicles. In recent times, several key features of the FWS offering have been subsumed into the SYNC system - Ford's enhanced in-car connectivity system offered across its vehicles.