How A Humble Ford Pickup Became America’s Best-Selling Vehicle By Channeling Boomer World: Part 1/2

Anniversaries and milestones

Outside the automotive community, one of the sneakiest trivia questions around is what is the best selling vehicle in America? It’s easy to see why most people guess wrong: the highways are full of cool, stylish offerings with suave foreign accents. In fact, only one-in-four auto brands hustling for our business are American (11/42, Automotive News).

Competition is so intense the domestics barely scraped together a 45% market share in 2016.

No wonder so many are surprised to learn the top-selling vehicle is a full-size Detroit-brand pickup, the Ford F-series, which outsold the two most popular cars combined. Not only that, but the #2 and #3 best-sellers, Silverado and Ram, are also full-size American pickups. Godzilla rules!

Contrary to old-time imagery of trucks as rough-and-ready workhorses, most are bought pretty well decked out. At around $43,000, the average transaction price for an F-series runs $10,000 above that of the average new vehicle (GoodCarBadCar.com). And in a top end trim level, buyers are looking at somewhere north of $60,000.

Despite above-average prices and a personality that isn’t exactly PC in today’s EV-focused climate, F-series sales leadership is no fluke. It has been the nation’s best-selling vehicle bar none for 36 years and is observing its 40th anniversary as the best-selling truck line since 1977.

Through it all, Chevy was right there nipping at the champ’s heels, but somehow Ford always managed to grab the gold year after year.

Another time, another place: peace, love, groovy 

You might be forgiven if all this truck talk comes as news: 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love – you remember … if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Coverage – or is it uncoverage – of the May 20th Nude Parade through the City by the Bay was way more extensive.

If you ever wanted to tune in, turn on, drop out and embrace your inner flower child – sure you do – the place is celebrating all the way through fall with a full schedule of events that provide ample opportunity to strut your hippie cred.

Ah, 1967. Just saying it summons up the sounds, sights and patchouli-laden fragrances of an era when not only clothes but deodorants were optional.

And, of course, everyone drove to anti-war protests in little VW vans and Beetles. Hardly a pickup in sight …  but then, courtesy of Uncle Sam, in 1967 many of the young Boomers who actually drove such things were on a all-expense paid trip to southeast Asia, a place where love was in short supply.

Growing up Boomer: the flipside 

Back in ’67, out in the real world – which then, as now, began just east of UC Berkeley – Volkswagen’s famous advice to Think Small went unheeded

Where most Boomers grew up, flowers in the hair were out of step with the bigger is better mindset of their mainstream moms and dads. At around 3,900 pounds – well over twice the weight of the cute little Bug – Chevrolet Impala was the best selling car in 1967, with the like-sized Ford Galaxie a close runner-up.

We’re talking real mass here, people – big, brash and in your face.

Ads introducing the all-new ’67 Impala left no doubt about the burly allure of Detroit iron:

Heavy. The way most people want an Impala, nearly two tons. And big. Its body by Fisher is over six and one-half feet wide, and, bumper to bumper, it’s over 17 and one-half feet long.

In fact, if 2016’s two best selling passenger cars – Toyota Camry and Toyota Corolla – had been available in 1967 they’d have been called compacts; here’s how they compare with Impala and Galaxie.

Chevrolet Impala 4 door: 213″ / 3,900 lbs curb weight

Ford Galaxie 4 door: 213″ / 3,700 lbs curb weight

Shrink 22″ ⇒ Toyota Camry 4 door: 191″ / 3,350 lbs curb weight

Shrink 30″ ⇒ Toyota Corolla 4 door: 183″ / 2,900 lbs curb weight

Despite their impressive bulk, Impala and Galaxie were neither the biggest cars sold in 1967 – Cadillac Sedan de Ville and Lincoln Continental were close to a foot longer – nor the baddest. This was the dawn of the muscle car era when automakers slugged it out in a testosterone-fueled fight for big dog cool, with monster V-8s tweaked to push out 400+ HP on the street … more on the track.

Man, we Boomers really wanted in. Many were still too young to drive or too young to afford new cars or wound up behind the wheel of little import instead, but the fantasy was embedded. Even today it lives on, tucked away inside.

Then, suddenly, the seventies put the brakes on big car fever. After a couple of oil crises, an environmentalism surge, increasing government regulation and economic malaise, downsizing arrived to end the dream. Boomers consoled themselves with yuppiefication and turned to imports as the new symbols of progressivity.

Trucks, the rebel underground of auto world

Although regulators and taste-makers thought they could bring the masses to heel, everyday people had already been too deeply imprinted by the successes of American culture to let go of those big, brash, bold, in your face symbols of how far they had come since the Great Depression and WW2. These desires did not go away with the demise of big cars. Instead, they went underground.

When they reemerged it was in the unlikely form of trucks.

Unlikely, that is, to those who failed to understand the hidden dynamics of consumer attitudes and behavior that flow from enduring, under-the-radar Americana – and which still influence the Boomers who buy half of the nation’s new vehicles today.

To be continued in Part 2

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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