In Detroit they have a name for the assembly plant that builds the highest profit vehicles: the Money Plant. In recent years, the title has moved around. In the 1980s, it was Ford's Wixom, Mich. plant that was turning out Thunderbirds and Lincoln Town Cars and Continentals. In the '90s, the honor passed to Michigan Truck outside Detroit, home of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.
These days, Ford's Dearborn Truck is the money plant, and it isn't likely to give up that title anytime soon. Along with plants in Kansas City and Louisville, it is turning out thousands of thousands of F-series pickups, America's most popular vehicle, and demand is rebounding strongly. In the first quarter, it built 93,948 F-series trucks, all of them with four doors, and the cash is rolling in. Some 30% of all truck buyers spend more than $40,000 on their hardware, and analysts say that when you eliminate development and engineering costs, each truck sold returns a profit to the manufacturer of up to $10,000.
Spurred by the housing boom and demand from builders, truck sales are sizzling. For the first four months of the year, Ford (Fortune 500) sold 227,873 F-series -- more than one a minute and up 19.1% from the year before. Other makers are feasting too. Chevrolet and Ram (formerly Dodge) both reported sales gains for their full-size pickups of 23% and more this year. Import brands don't resonate with domestic buyers, but both Toyota and Nissan are redoubling their efforts to get larger slices of this lucrative market. ,
With so much money at stake, manufacturers are pouring resources into trucks, in particular top-end models that can cost more than $50,000. Especially popular are Western-themed motifs that enable every owner to feel at home on the range. General Motors (Fortune 500) brings out new Chevy and GMC models with cowboy iconography later this year, and , Toyota ( is jumping in with Texas Tundras. Along with the Ram Laramie Longhorn, they will be challenging Ford's long-running F-series King Ranch edition. )
Cowpoke or tenderfoot, buyers have never had so many modern pickups to choose from. By 2015, every truck on the market will be redesigned. Here's a look at what's selling today -- and what auto manufacturers will be using to fight truck wars tomorrow.
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