A new pickup truck from Ford Motor Co. quietly began rolling off assembly lines at the Dearborn automaker's Hermosillo plant in Mexico last month, according to production data reported to shareholders this week.
The news was first reported by CNBC. The new product — dubbed "C-Pick Up" and expected to be called "Maverick" — appeared in a plant-by-plant production report accompanying the automaker's monthly U.S. sales figures. The truck is being produced at the same plant where Ford's new Bronco Sport is built.
According to the production data, just 21 C-Pick Up units were built last month. Ford spokesman Mike Levine declined to comment beyond what's in the production report. It's long been anticipated by industry observers that Ford would introduce a compact, affordably-priced pickup truck sometime this year.
AutoForecast Solutions, a global automotive forecasting firm, expects the Hermosillo-built truck to use the same platform and some of the same powertrain components as the Bronco Sport but feature different styling, according to Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting.
The firm expects the truck to be smaller than the mid-size Ford Ranger pickup. It's likely to feature a unibody frame, four-cylinder engine, front- and all-wheel drive options, and eventually to have a hybrid version.
The truck is expected to go into full production in July. That units are being built now indicates the automaker is testing the product on the assembly line, Fiorani said, and would likely ramp up production this summer.
He expects the truck to be sold in North and South America, including in the U.S., and to eventually reach more than 100,000 units of production per year.
"We're expecting it to be priced below the Ranger, it (having) smaller engines and (being) lighter duty," he said. "It's more of a lifestyle vehicle. We're not expecting it to show up on construction sites."
Industry analysts say there is plenty of room in the market for a more affordable offering, as the average price for a new vehicle in the U.S. hovers around $40,000.
"There's a market for a low-priced, smaller, but highly flexible and functional pickup truck," said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for iSeeCars.com. "And I don't think anyone is making a vehicle for that — so whoever does it first will own that market."
The Ranger's starting price is about $25,000, while the lowest trim level of the latest model year of the F-150 is just under $29,000. But with various add-ons and more luxury-oriented trim levels, those prices can quickly climb.
If the new truck is indeed priced below the Ranger, that would put its starting price closer to $20,000 — a rarity in an SUV- and truck-heavy market in which average transaction prices have soared, shutting out some would-be entry-level buyers and driving them to the used-vehicle market or to competitors.
Ford CEO Jim Farley, upon stepping into the job in October, identified affordable vehicles as a key growth strategy. Farley at that time laid out a plan for turning around the Blue Oval's automotive operations and profitably growing the business; adding more affordable vehicles to the global lineup, including in North America, is part of that plan.
Ford has hinted that a new vehicle is in the works. In November, the automaker said it would be adding a "not-yet-named vehicle that will fill a whitespace in the market."
Brauer said, too, that the market conditions are just right for this type of addition, given the potentially appealing price point, limited offerings of smaller trucks, and strong consumer appetite for utility-type vehicles: "If you are making a new truck or a new SUV that's never been built before, it's as close as you're going to get in the auto industry to a no-lose proposition right now, in terms of consumer and market demand and interest."
The new product, he said, also speaks to the success of Bronco Sport, which launched at the end of last year: "The level of success they've found with that platform already bodes well for the ability to produce a compact, small pickup truck and have it still be well-received."