Time for a pick-me-up

Apr 1, 2010

Are pickup sales picking up?

After fuel prices dramatically rose during the summer of 2008, followed by the dramatic fall of the economy in 2009, pickups and big SUVS fell out of favor with American consumers. Some traded them in for fuel-friendly cars during 2009’s “cash for clunkers” program.

Some put for-sale signs on them just hoping someone else would come along and take their box-on-body fuel eater off their hands. Others figured they’d already paid for the vehicle, so they’d just keep it. The reasons are as varied as there are individuals. In any case truck sales in 2008 and 2009 plummeted even more than those of automobiles.

But is that trend doing a one-eighty?

In January, one of those traditionally low-sales months for dealers, truck sales started to show up on the radar.

By mid-March, as Toyota – continuing to reel from its acceleration and brake issues -burst forth with incentives that drove thousands of U.S. buyers into its dealers’ stores, sales accelerated; Toyota recaptured the No. 1 market share to a healthy near-28%.

And not just Toyota. Hyundai and Ford have continued to do well bringing in the clients; and Ford, of course, is big on its F series of pickups – big, to the power of a 39% sales jump in February 2010 over February 2009. In fact, Ford’s pickups sold the most of any vehicle series, car or truck.

Even GM, which seems to change its focus on a monthly basis, saw its Chevy Silverado prove to be the No. 3 vehicle seller in February, edged out only by Honda’s Accord.

Pickup sales No. 1 and No. 3.

Earlier in the year Nissan dealers asked their manufacturer to boost production of the big, full-size Titan pickups and Armada SUVs. Nissan, like just about every carmaker, has been trending its manufacturing to smaller, more fuel-efficient and alternative-motor-plant vehicles. And rightfully so. But with gas prices holding fairly steady as the economy begins to gain some mileage (we’ll just have to wait till summer to see what the traditional price-per-gallon rise will be), and with price wars continuing as automakers and their dealers go for volume sales over huge profits, pickup truck sales might just rise from the ashes of 2008-2009.

A question mark, however, regarding increased truck sales is whether the EPA’s 2010 emission standards will negatively affect pickup sales, consumer and/or fleet, with regard to pricing. Will manufacturers and dealers let big profits sit in the back seat in order to move inventory, keep people working and get more consumers to sign on the dotted line?

Another question is whether the lenders will lend. With car sales spurred on in the past month or so, one would think that will transfer nicely to the truck market.

And yet another question is the economy. Will it recover enough for consumers and fleet owners to feel confident enough about taking on a debt they feel they can manage? Again, the recent spike in vehicle sales offers a positive take.

I went to NTEA’s Work Truck Show a few weeks ago, and the mood was upbeat – not ecstatic, but certainly upbeat. When I returned, the following was in my e-mailbox:

“At the Work Truck Show in St. Louis, auto industry insiders are banking on a comeback of light-duty pickup trucks. Despite the gas guzzling reputation, people like contractors, campers and small businesses still need trucks. To meet this need, manufacturers are working to make these haulers more fuel-efficient while increasing durability and productivity. Trucks like the new GMC Sierra Heavy Duty and Chevrolet’s 2011 Silverado are being designed with engines that make power with less fuel and fewer emissions.”

That sums it up. Pickups are coming back. And they’ll be better than ever.