The Ford F-150 pickup truck has dominated sales nationwide for four decades but it’s not the most popular vehicle in Tallapoosa County.
There are 9,079 registered Chevrolets in the county, more than any other manufacturer, according to the Tallapoosa County Probate Office, which provided data on the make, model and year of all vehicle tags sold in 2018.
Ford is second at 7,751, Toyota third at 4,340 and Dodge/Ram fourth at 2,982.
While Mopar vehicles combined don’t come close to the number of Chevrolets and Fords registered in Tallapoosa County — Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram total 5,487 — they are selling better, according to Bice Motors owner Brian Bice.
Market Masters’ 12-month rolling report said Bice Motors, which sells Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram, sold twice as many new vehicles as Chevrolet and Ford combined in the Tallapoosa County market from April 2018 to April 2019, according to Bice, who said 50% of his dealership’s business comes from outside its home market.
Trucks are easily the best sellers in Tallapoosa County according to the county’s three new-vehicle dealerships — McKelvey Chevrolet in Dadeville and Tallapoosa Ford and Bice in Alexander City.
“There won’t be too many people’s houses you ride by and there isn’t a truck in the yard,” Tallapoosa Ford general manager Leslie Wingler said.
According to the probate office, more Chevrolet half-ton or 1500 series pickup trucks are registered in Tallapoosa County than Fords but it’s close — 2,536 Chevrolets to 2,306 Fords. Dodge/Ram is third at 1,013.
“Our No. 1 seller is our half-ton pickup — that’s 80% of our business,” said Rush McKelvey, co-owner of McKelvey Chevrolet, which has been in business in Dadeville since 1956. “People have got to have a truck around here. You’ve got Lake Martin and you have to haul a boat. The Lake Martin trading area is over 40,000 people. There are a lot of uses for a truck; you work around the yard and on the farm.”
McKelvey conceded he didn’t expect Chevrolet to be the most popular brand in Tallapoosa County.
“I’m a little surprised to hear that because Ford advertises it has the top-selling truck,” he said. “But it sounds like I’m in the right business. A lot of people like Chevy in Tallapoosa County. They’re easy to work on and parts are easy to get. That 9,000 probably includes a lot of older Chevrolets. They become a lot less expensive after four or five years.”
The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado was redesigned and buyers seem to like the changes, according to McKelvey.
“The Silverado has a new body style and that’s got people buying it,” he said. “It seems to be a good product. It usually takes six months to a year to settle down. We’ve had people trading their Fords in on them and usually people stay with a brand.”
Wingler was also surprised by Ford’s No. 2 status in Tallapoosa County given the mass appeal of the F-150.
“I’ve been here 28 years and the F-150 has been the top seller every year,” Wingler said. “There are a lot of older Chevrolets and we sell them too. It doesn’t shock me but I’d have lost money if I was a betting man.”
Ford is phasing out production of passenger cars, concentrating on trucks, SUVs and crossovers, and its staple remains the F-150, the best-selling pickup truck in the U.S. for 42 consecutive years.
McKelvey and Wingler said brand loyalty remains strong with few defections from Ford to Chevrolet or vice versa.
“We’ve got one company that buys nothing but Ford,” Wingler said. “They’ve been buying from us 26 years. (The owner) doesn’t take them out of service until they’ve got 350,000 miles on them. They had an Escort with 500,000 miles on it. He gave it to an employee and he’s still driving it. A guy just left here who in the last 10 years bought five F-150s — King Ranches and Platinums. We have Ford F-150s getting traded in with 300,000 miles.”
That loyalty is increasingly seen from women who are buying and driving pickup trucks more than ever, all the dealers said.
“The trucks aren’t just for the working man anymore,” Wingler said. “Women love them, especially the crew cab; the room is unbelievable. They drive so much better than they used to. Women have the say-so. They drive it as their personal vehicle.”
Bice Motors salesman Jason Tapley said he sells as many trucks to women as he does men.
“I have a husband and wife as customers and one can come to buy a truck and the other one will come in a few days later to buy one,” he said.
Trucks remain the best sellers despite their increasing cost. In addition to better visibility, hauling capacity and four-wheel drive, trucks have become more sophisticated, offering leather seats, navigation, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, surround sound, sunroofs, power doors, windows, locks and running boards, voice-commanded features, automatic-dimming high beams and rain-sensing wipers.
Those amenities come at a high price — it’s not uncommon for a truck with some but not all of those features to cost $50,000 or more.
“Most of the trucks we sell are in the $50,000 to $60,000 range,” Wingler said. “A lot of those higher-end vehicles are lake traffic.”
A Ford F-150 Platinum Edition costs $78,000, Wingler said, and the cheapest F-150 Tallapoosa Ford sells is a base model for $29,650.
A Ram 4x4 Limited Edition, which was also redesigned in 2019, carries a $68,000 sticker and Tapley said he has converted many Chevrolet and Ford owners into Ram drivers.
“It’s the interior design … it’s unreal,” Tapley said.
The Ram and the Jeep Wrangler are the top sellers at Bice Motors, finance manager Jeff Cantey said, and a combination of the two may prove to be an immense success.
The recently introduced Gladiator is a Wrangler pickup truck that could be hard for dealerships to keep in stock, at least in the early stages of production. The Gladiator is so popular it commands the full sticker price and even above, according to Tapley.
“They’re selling Gladiators $20,000 over sticker in Arizona,” Tapley said.
The first Gladiator to arrive at Bice lasted two days and sold for the $61,000 sticker, Tapley said.
“Everybody is going crazy about it,” he said. “I get 10 to 12 calls a day about it. We’ve got two more on the way and one of them is pre-sold. They won’t let us have many.”
Gladiators range from $44,000 for a base model to $62,800 for a Rubicon, Tapley said, but those prices won’t likely deter buyers.
“I think the Gladiator will do real well,” Cantey said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. There’s nothing else out there like the Jeep. That’s one of the reasons it doesn’t carry a rebate. It doesn’t have to.”
According to Bice, many Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram models have outsold the competition since 2018 in the Tallapoosa, Elmore and Coosa counties market.
Bice said Jeep was the top brand for growth in the local market from March 2018 to March 2019 across all manufacturers.
“Jeep sales were up 66% year over year,” he said.
From February 2018 to February 2019, a number of other Mopar brands were No. 1 in the local market, Bice said, including the Dodge Challenger among sports cars (sales were up 100%), the Dodge Journey among midsize crossovers (up 200%), the Jeep Grand Cherokee among full-size SUVs (up 133%), the Jeep Cherokee among mid-size SUVs (up 25%), the Chrysler Pacifica among full-size minivans and the Charger and Chrysler 300 among full-size sedans.
In all of 2018, Ram sales increased 10 percent, making it the top-selling truck in the local market, Bice said.
The oldest vehicles registered in Tallapoosa County are a trio of 1929 Ford Model A’s. The oldest Chevrolet truck is a 1946 model, the oldest Ford truck a 1942 model and the oldest Ram a 1975 model.