Big Pickup Trucks Rumble Back from Sales Slump

Big Pickup Trucks Rumble Back from Sales Slump

May 11th, 2013 Terry Box- Dallas Morning News in Carscruisin

Big, burly pickups - dismissed as dinosaurs five years ago - will probably lead the auto industry in sales growth this year.

"I think this will be the year of a truck comeback," said Jesse Toprak, enior analyst at TrueCar.com.

Pushed by strong economic winds, truck sales were up 18 percent in the first quarter and should remain robust or at least another year, analysts say.

Trucks' stars are in alignment these days.

Housing sales and construction, two major drivers of truck sales, continue to improve. And gas prices are almost 30 cents a gallon cheaper than they were a year ago.

Even more important, many business owners believe the economy is finally on the mend and feel increasingly comfortable trading their worn-out 11- or 12-year-old vehicles on new trucks.

"People started replacing their old cars a couple of years ago," Toprak said. "But businesses want lots of assurance that things really are getting better before they move."

They will find plenty of temptation. For the first time since 2007, four of the six manufacturers that compete in the full-size pickup segment will offer all-new or mostly new trucks.

The 2013 Ram, for example, arrived late last year, and the 2014 Toyota Tundra, introduced a few weeks ago, is expected at dealerships this fall.

In the next six weeks or so, Chevrolet's 2014 Silverado and GMC's 2014 Sierra will roll into showrooms, the first new pickups from General Motors in six years.

"There's just a lot of pent-up demand from consumers who postponed decisions in 2008 and 2009," said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

That should result in higher automaker earnings this year. Despite pickups' steep tumble in 2008, they remain the most profitable vehicles in the auto industry, analysts say.

Just ask the Detroit Three. Ford's still-fresh F-series truck has long been the top-selling vehicle of any kind in the U.S., followed by the Chevy Silverado - and both have substantially higher profit margins than cars.

Chrysler's newly refined Ram, the seventh best-selling vehicle in the U.S. last year, continues to be the automaker's top performer.

"It used to be for every customer I'd take from Ford or Chevy, they'd take some from us," said Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram brand. "We're still trading even with Ford, but I'm taking buyers from the other three guys."

Three years ago, manufacturers sold 1.3 million pickups in the U.S., half of their pre-recession total of 2.5 million.

Sales climbed to 1.6 million last year and are still growing.

"If we maintain 18 percent or higher growth this year, we'll be approaching 2 million," said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager. "I said a year ago that I didn't think the segment would ever get back to 2.5 million, that 2 million would be a high-water mark. Now there's a lot more optimism about it." Better fuel economy may be attracting some buyers, particularly people who use their trucks for work.

Ford was first to put a premium on pickup economy, developing a high-torque turbocharged V-6 engine as an alternative to a V-8.

The EcoBoost V-6 is rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway.