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Pickup Truck Sales Plunge To Thirty-Year Low

2011 Ford F-150 towing a trailer

2011 Ford F-150 towing a trailer

Sales of pickup trucks, once considered the staple vehicle of U.S. automakers, fell to volumes not seen since Ward's Auto began keeping a database in 1980. 

April 2011 sales of compact and full-size pickups accounted for just 11.8 percent of light vehicle sales during the month. Year to date sales of pickup trucks are also down, with the truck segment accounting for just 12.6 percent of light vehicle sales.

By comparison, pickup truck sales accounted for 22.9 percent of light vehicle sales at their peak in July of 2005. Back then, unemployment was at 5 percent and regular gasoline cost just $2.28 per gallon, and non-commercial demand for pickup trucks generally parallels both unemployment and fuel costs.

Housing starts are also an indicator of demand for pickup trucks, and the current glut of foreclosures nationwide has reduced housing starts to just 549,000 in March, or roughly 25 percent of their peak in 2005.

Even in Texas, long considered the biggest truck market in the United States, sales are down. Per Randall Reed, owner of five Texas Ford dealerships, "Our volume was typically 50 percent F-Series sales, but that has come down since the Fiesta and the Fusion. We're going to balance out and be selling more cars than ever in our history."

While sales of both small and mid-size cars are up, all hope isn’t lost for the truck market just yet. The rebuilding necessitated by the tornadoes in the Southeast should spur truck sales, and there’s a growing demand for pickups in the commercial sector, driven by small businesses related to agriculture and construction. GM even sees pent-up demand driving sales, once the economy begins showing signs of recovery.

If history is an indicator, it will take a significant decrease in both unemployment and gasoline prices before pickup truck sales rebound to their prior levels.

[Ward’s Auto]

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Comments (5)
  1. I have had trucks since the 1970's before they became a fashion statement and will always own one. They can be used for carrying stuff like gas cans and lawnmowers and building supplies too.

  2. kdog, you're not alone. Regardless of how well new trucks are selling, I suspect there will always be a strong market for used pickups and SUVs.

  3. Not suprised truck sales are down for the reasons identified in the article, but it also goes beyond the reasons identified. As kdog has indicated, pick-ups are clearly a "fashion" statement and the prices relect this "fashion" statement. Years ago, it was possible to purchase a pick-up (work truck) at a resonable price, but now with heavy duty pick-up truck costs in the neighbor hood of $50,000 to $65,000 who can afford to purchase (remember that trucks are the manufacturers biggest money makers)and the consumer needs to make a statement by not purchasing Pick-ups at outrageous prices manufacturers / dealers are asking.

  4. What's missing from the equation is a compact diesel truck. Ford sells a new Ranger in 180 countries, but not the US. Truck sales might hold their own if the manufacturers made and sold more fuel efficient trucks in the US. The f-150 should have a small turbo diesel 6 available for folks who don't need to tow 20,000lbs.

  5. Jim, I couldn't agree more. Manufacturers argue that compact truck sales in the U.S. are flat, but do you think that could be related to the fact that the last Ford Ranger redesign came in 1997? Even the best-selling Toyota Tacoma hasn't been refreshed since 2004. When you sell the same products year after year, it shouldn't be a mystery why buyers grow tired of them.

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