Detroit rivalry remains even as GM, Ford and Stellantis take on Tesla

Ford CEO Jim Farley speaks during the launch of the all-new Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck at the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center on April 26, 2022 in Dearborn, Michigan. The F-150 Lightning is positioned to be the first full-size all-electric pickup truck to go on sale in the mainstream U.S. market.

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

DETROIT — Even as Detroit automakers change and adapt to compete with electric vehicle leader Tesla, some things in the Motor City remain the same.

General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) are all turning to electric vehicles, looking to catch up with Elon Musk’s automaker in sales. Still, the longstanding rivalry between the three American automakers remains alive and well. This is especially true in the hotly contested market for full-size pickup trucks, which is a major profit driver for them.

Take, for example, the events of the past week: As Ford prepared to celebrate the launch of its F-150 Lightning on Tuesday at a factory in Dearborn, Michigan, GM and Stellantis sought to upstage their big name. rival and its highly anticipated electric vehicle. Retrieve.

A day before the event, amid a blitz of F-150 Lightning stories, GM seemingly confirmed out of nowhere that the Chevrolet Corvette will be offered in hybrid and all-electric models for years to come. The announcement, which industry onlookers had been expecting for some time, was light on details, but it put GM in the Lightning news cycle.

Stellantis’ Ram Trucks brand was more transparent about its intentions, when the brand posted a teaser video on social media of its upcoming electric pickup, saying, “It’s time to steal some thunder”.

Ford said it’s no surprise competitors are trying to troll the F-150 Lightning, which hits the market at least a year before electric Chevy and Ram pickups.

“The F-150 Lightning is one of those rare product launches that transcends the automotive world and becomes a cultural moment, and it’s been called a tipping point for America’s transition to electric cars. Of course, others will try to get in. Ford’s communications director Mark Truby said in a statement to CNBC.

A GM spokesperson declined to comment on the timing of its announcement, but said “it’s only natural that the world will pay attention when we confirm the Corvette is going electric,” while touting other electric vehicles to come. of the society. A spokesperson for Ram declined to comment.

“It’s bloodthirsty and it’s beautiful”

Last week’s announcements are just the latest examples in a long tradition of companies trying to outdo each other or strike up a conversation. Automakers have hordes of PR and marketing experts whose job it is to make sure their vehicles are talked about.

“This rivalry started, I think, in 1931. Don’t act like it’s new,” said Jason Vines, a former automotive public relations executive known for his over-the-top auto show debut. “It’s bloodthirsty and it’s beautiful.”

Vines, who has worked for Ford, Chrysler and Nissan on several occasions, said when he was part of the Dodge Challenger launch for Chrysler, Chevrolet crashed the event with a new Chevrolet Camaro on a flatbed truck.

In 2016, Chevy ran a national ad campaign targeting the durability of Ford’s aluminum truck bed, literally drilling holes in it with tools and stuff. And four years earlier, in a Super Bowl ad about the predicted Mayan apocalypse, Chevy drivers survived, while “Dave,” a Ford owner, didn’t.

Vines said automaker executives live to beat their Motor City competitors.

Such corporate rivalries aren’t unique to the automotive industry, but the passion some car owners have for the brands they drive is arguably unique. It is also an important activity in merchandising and in the long-term loyalty of buyers to the brand.

GM seems to have particularly enjoyed taking pictures of Ford’s best-selling F-Series pickups, including the F-150 and its larger siblings, which Ford has touted as a $42 billion franchise for the automaker. .

The all-electric Chevrolet Silverado at the New York Auto Show, April 13, 2022.

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

This fierce rivalry also helps explain why auto brands will offer lucrative incentives to entice buyers to switch brands. It also drives innovation, according to Vines.

“Beauty is, it’s great for the American consumer. These people, these men and women, are bloodthirsty to create the best possible product to steal customers from each other,” Vines said. “It’s a great part of our industry. We’re looking for the customer.”

In some cases, the rivalries go back decades and are carried on from generation to generation.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, whose grandfather worked for the company, has always been passionate about the companies he worked for during his career. Notably, in a 2011 book, “Once Upon a Car” by New York Times journalist Bill Vlasic, Farley is quoted as saying he planned to enjoy beating “Chevrolet over the head with a bat”.

Farley, who later apologized for the comments and publicly showed respect for his competitors, was the automaker’s marketing department chief at the time: ‘We’re going to beat them, and it’s going to be fun,’ he is quoted as saying. as said in the book. “I hate them, their company and what they stand for. And I hate the way they succeed.”

General Motors CEO Mary Barra attends the Allen and Co. Sun Valley annual press conference in Sun Valley, Idaho on July 12, 2019.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Although GM executives haven’t been as public about their opinion of Ford, the automaker’s top executives – CEO Mary Barra and Chairman Mark Reuss – both had relatives who worked for the automaker. And they worked exclusively at the automaker during their careers.

Back to Tesla

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive, said Detroit automakers need to focus less on each other if they want to succeed in electric vehicles. The hyper-focus on each other and the undervaluation of newcomers is part of why they’ve lost their grip on the US market, he said. This is also how Tesla was able to dominate the electric vehicle market.

“Although there is this intense focus, especially with GM and Ford, you always know if one has a big announcement planned, the other is going to try to sabotage it with a different announcement,” she said. declared. “But at the same time, you know, the rest of the world is going on and being competitive.”

Detroit automakers have definitely taken notice of Tesla, which Farley himself followed last week at the Lightning event, noting that the pickup is capable of charging a Tesla. He also alluded to the fact that Ford’s truck costs thousands of dollars less than “competitors’ trucks, every time they actually go on sale” – a dig at the long-delayed Tesla Cybertruck.

“We plan to challenge Tesla and all new entrants to become the world’s leading electric vehicle maker,” Farley said, adding that the company is determined to be the top-selling automaker for electric pickup trucks and challenge the company. of Musk in terms of sales.

Of course, at GM, Barra has a different point of view: “I’m very comfortable, because when people walk into [our vehicles]they’re just blown away,” Barra told CNBC last year. “So we’re going to roll them out and we’re going to keep working until we have the first EV market share. “

Comments are closed.