Automakers will bicker all day over "Best In Class" titles, 'cause they figure you'll abandon all other loyalties when you see those three little words. But after diving deeper on Ford and Ram's latest title tug-of-war, all I can tell you is why "best in class" is the last thing you should care about.
All this emphasis on booking the honor of "Best In Class" has driven companies to perpetuate a system of assigning nonsense-numbers to their vehicles, and it's only hurting us consumers who are actually trying to buy these things.
Ford v. Ram v. The People
Until very recently, the 2014 Ram 3500 rear-wheel drive single cab dually unequivocally owned "best in-class" heavy-duty pickup truck towing with the claim that it could pull 30,000 pounds. Now the 2015 Ford F-450 steps on the scene. It can tow 31,200 pounds, with a 4x4 drivetrain no less. Ford has planted their flag on "Best Towing In Class" country, and Ram ain't happy about it.
Here's how the conflict has basically been gone down, as told through the most logical means I could think of: a courtroom-style dramatization. Just so we're clear, these are not actual quotes from company representatives. I'm paraphrasing and caricaturizing company viewpoints for brevity (and your amusement.)
Ram: "This Ford F-450 'best in class' towing claim is bullcrap. Their truck is not in the same class as our class-besting Ram 3500. Our truck is a Class 3 (under GVWR 14,000) Ford's is a Class 4 (GVRW 14,001+).
Ford: "False, the 2015 F-450 pickup is under GVWR 14,000. The F-450 is now [puts on sunglasses] best-in-Class 3."
Ram: "GVWR is the truck plus the max it can carry. Your truck's curb weight is listed at 8,611 lbs. It's max payload is listed at 5,450. That's 14,061 pounds. Want some ice for that burn?"
Ford: "Yeah, but, you can buy an F-450 that weighs less than that base curb weight because there are "option-delete" options. Customers can check a box at the dealer that drops the spare tire, swaps front bench seats for buckets, loses the radio, and gets the whole deal under 14 thou."
[Sidebar: AutomotiveNews got Ford's Mike Levine to say the exact maximum weight savings an F-450 pickup could get by checking "option-deletes" was 154 pounds.]
Ram: "That is sneaky. Who would do such a thing?"
GM: [Raises hand, cracks beer] "We totally do that too. We have a rear bumper delete option commercial buyers love. We use that and some other 'add-lightness' options in our max towing calculations that result in a lower-than-curb-weight starting point and provides more weight-to-work-with toward GVWR."
Ram: "So Ford threw a pickup bed on a Class 4 commercial truck and called it a Class 3. The International CXT called, it wants its ridiculousness back."
Ford: "Nope. The 2015 Ford F-350 is the 2014 F-450. The 2015 F-450 pickup is a 2015 F-350 with a reinforced frame, a big axle, and some commercial-grade wheels. The F-450 chassis cab is on a totally different frame with different suspension. That's a different truck altogether. Try and keep up, kemosabe."
Ram: "Whatever, you don't follow the SAE towing standard J2807 so your towing numbers aren't apples-to-apples with ours."
Ford: "Relax, we're doing it when we redesign the truck (nudges intern: 'hahaha, we are so never redesigning that truck').
Toyota: [Throws paper airplane].
It's been reported Toyota and Ram do not use that "add-lightness options" practice, but if you go to either company's website you'll see payload and curb weight add up to more than GVWR. Ram's is pretty negligible (like five pounds) which they attribute to rounding, but combined curb weight and payload on a 4x2 CrewMax Tundra Limited is 75 pounds over GVWR according to Toyota.com. That's more than the 61 pounds Ford's taking heat for, but nobody cares because it doesn't affect the truck's class. It does confuse the issue of the Tundra's actual capability though, which I find annoying.
Every company's rep seems to admit their "consumer sites" have typos. "You've got to use our 'builder's pages' (reference guides for commercial upfitters) to get real numbers" I have been told many times, but those don't seem to be reliable either. Ford's listed their 2015 F-450 pickup (not chassis cab) GVWR at 14,500 pounds in the "builder's book" when I checked it out. Tough typo at at time when hungry dogs of inquest are trying to prove the truck's GVWR is over 14,000 pounds.
Which, Finally, Brings Me To My Point
All these towing limits, curb weights, and "Class Titles" seem about as legit to me as "Hottest Girls Ever" flickering in neon at a strip club abutting a gas station. I'll forgive you for getting fired up about it for a fleeting moment but man, you should know better.
It seems ridiculous to me that every "class leading" truck could actually be built so their weight and cargo capacity line up perfectly to their class maximum GVWR.
Of course, that's easy to achievable when "payload capacity" is whatever the manufacturer says it is. If "Truck A" has to be Class 3 and it has a curb weight of 7,000 pounds, all the company has to do is rate it for 7,000 pounds of payload and it's a Class 3. If building it up to be able to carry 10,000 pounds is necessary to increase towing capacity, the company doesn't have to claim the added capability and can therefore stay in the lower class.
Or, the company can put an option in their order guide to gut the interior. Offering an even-more stripped interior actually sounds like a great idea, using it to squeeze a few extra pounds of payload for the brochure is underhanded to the consumer.
Never mind that the "curb weight" every automaker uses is what a featherweight work truck tips the scale at, stark naked with no options. In case you haven't guessed; that's not the trim level Ford, Ram, or GM (or Toyota or Nissan) want you to get excited about when you see "BEST IN CLASS" on TV. And it's definitely not the one they let journalists borrow.
The last grievance I'll leave you with is that every truck company gets uproarious when they think their stats are misrepresented, then they shrug when they have errors on their consumer sites. That's the main resource us buyers have to compare all these capability claims that are apparently so important! If you're going to be nuts about numbers, at least stay consistent.
What About That F-450 Pickup Vs. F-450 Chassis Cab? Are They Actually Different?
They are not the same.
When I began my investigation into this, I figured the F-450 pickup truck and F-450 chassis cab had to be the same truck. They've got the same name, right? This was initially interesting because the F-450 chassis cab has a GVWR well over 14,000 pounds and would prove some shadiness on Ford's part in the "Best In Class" business.
But I finally got my hands on Ford's frame diagrams (which I couldn't find until one of their competitors emailed me the public link), and can confirm the Super Duty pickup frame, including the F-450's, is indeed different from the chassis cab.
The 2014 F-450 pickup truck is a 2014 F-350 with a reenforced frame plus commercial-grade wheels and axle.