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.