Truck, SUV sales hit a new high mark

With gas prices dropping, many motorists opt for more versatility and room

photo Mountain View Nissan's Brandon Payne, left, talks with Jim and Brenda Griffin as they take delivery on a 2015 Nissan Rogue.

Tony York works for Nissan and from the full line of vehicles the company makes, he decided to buy a new Titan pickup truck earlier this year.

"I wanted the space," the Hixson man said about the truck that competes against the likes of Ford's F-150, Chevrolet's Silverado and Toyota's Tundra.

Full-size pick-up salesNational sales through November by model and percent change over last year:• Ram Pickup - 395,567, up 22.7 percent• GMC Sierra - 188,397, up 13 percent• Chevrolet Silverado - 471,918, up 7.8 percent• Toyota Tundra - 107,974, up 6.1 percent• Ford F-Series - 679,496, down 1.4 percent• Nissan Titan - 11,658, down 19.1 percentSource: Kelley Blue BookFull-size suv salesNational sales through November by model and percent change over last year:• GMC Yukon - 36,840, up 49.1 percent• Ford Expedition - 40,393, up 18.7 percent• Chevrolet Tahoe - 86,467, up 15.5 percent• Ford Explorer - 191,530, up 9.1 percent• Chevrolet Traverse - 95,289, up 7.5 percent• Chevrolet Suburban - 48,248, up 6.2 percent• Dodge Durango - 58,279, up 5.3 percent• GMC Acadia - 76,649, down 6.4 percent• Toyota Sequoia - 10,545, down 15.2 percent• Nissan Armada - 11,232, down 13.1 percentSource: Kelley Blue Book

York isn't alone in desiring the extra room. People in Hamilton County are preferring to buy new trucks and SUVs over cars at a record pace.

Nearly 56 percent of all new vehicles titled in the county this year through November were pickups or SUVs. That's the highest share since the county clerk's office started keeping such records 42 years ago.

While truck and SUV sales have outpaced cars in seven of the last 10 years in the county, the disparity has grown by 5 percentage points since 2010.

Though November, 6,391 pickups and SUVs were titled in the county compared to just 5,042 cars, figures show.

Lower gas prices have helped spur interest in SUVs and trucks, said Thad Narramore, Marshal Mize Ford's new vehicle sales manager.

With gas projected to plunge to less than $2 a gallon later this year or early next in some parts of Tennessee, that's likely to keep sales going.

"That can't hurt things," Narramore said.

But, he added, people are buying SUVs and trucks because they've also become "the family vehicle."

"There's more room and they're a little more versatile," Narramore said. "You can haul stuff and drive them to church on Sunday, too."

Austin Watson, Mountain View Nissan's executive manager, said lower gas prices are helping to spur SUV and truck sales because it gives people more confidence they can afford them.

"They're not leery about some of the bigger vehicles," he said.

Watson said that $2 a gallon gas will help people feel like they're saving money at the pump. Buying a car is typically the second biggest purchase a person will make behind a house, he said.

photo Mountain View Nissan reports total vehicle sales are up 23 percent so far this year.

"They need confidence," Watson said, adding that sentiment has been building over the last couple of years in Nissan and the economy in general. He said Mountain View's total sales are up 23 percent so far this year.

Higher truck and SUV sales also have been reported nationally.

The GMC truck brand was up 22.7 percent, the Jeep Cherokee rose 67 percent, and the Honda CR-V reported a sales rise of 38 percent. Toyota's overall sales grew on the strength of its 4Runner SUV, which was up 53.4 percent, and the Highlander SUV, which saw sales climb 16.7 percent.

Ford, which sells more trucks than cars or utility vehicles, started production last month of its much anticipated new F-150 with a lighter aluminum body, which it expects to continue to be a big seller.

The company sells more than 500,000 F-150s a year, which is tops among any vehicle. At the same time, the F-150's new 2.7-liter, turbocharged V6 can get 22 mpg overall and 26 mpg on the highway, which is the best of any gasoline-fueled, full-size pickup available, according to Ford.

photo Dodge Ram

Narramore said that Marshal Mize should start receiving the truck within the next week or two. He said the F-150 "hadn't missed" for decades.

"They'll get that one right," Narramore said about Ford.

Jonathan Overly, a University of Tennessee professor who heads the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, said low gas prices generally hurt sales of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Overly suggested that if gas stays around $2 a gallon for long, General Motors may bring back its big Hummer SUV.

"It's amazing how fickle almost everyone in America is," he said. Overly said he recently had a conversation with a fleet vehicle operator, who was scaling back interest in alternative fuels.

photo GMC Yukon

But he believes some other fleet operators will look at the long-term trend of fuel prices and make plans based on those numbers, saving money if costs go back up.

Automakers also will be encouraged to sell smaller, more fuel-efficient cars to meet tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

The Obama administration has set a fleetwide standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025. Next year, the target is an average fuel efficiency of 35.4 miles per gallon, on average.

Although the standards allow a footprint approach that allows for light trucks if they get cleaner, car makers are counting to hit the fleetwide average automakers are counting on sales of their smaller, greener, more fuel-efficient models.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.