2010 Ford F-150
According to the Wall Street Journal, pickups are on a roll. On the sales floor, popular models like Ford's F-Series have seen double-digit improvement over 2009, which is good news for automakers and potentially for the U.S. economy as a whole.
In March of this year, sales of F-Series trucks like the popular F-150 soared 30% over March 2009. GM models like the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra also recorded increases, shooting up 27% and 22%, respectively. In fact, apart from the Dodge Ram (which is currently down 18.4% below last year), the entire pickup segment is looking good: March 2010 sales were up 20.8% over March 2009, and 6.7% year-to-date.
When sales of cars and SUVs increase, that tells economists that consumers are spending -- usually because they have more disposable income and/or because they have better access to credit. Growth in truck sales signals those things too, but since 75% of pickups are sold to small business owners, booming truck sales imply that small businesses are doing well. And to many economists, small businesses, not multinational corporations, are the real bellwether of the U.S. economy.
The growth in truck sales bodes especially well for the housing market, since the two typically rise and fall in direct correlation to one another. Right now, pickups account for roughly 11.5% of all vehicles sold in the U.S. That number slipped to the single digits during the recession, but as it creeps upward again, the construction sector and the real estate market should become steadily healthier.
Of course, economists always expect a jump in pickup sales during the month of March. As winter ends and snow begins to thaw, many construction projects swing into full-gear, requiring contractors, landscapers, and others in the sector to replace aging rides. However, the current numbers are stronger than many analysts expected, indicating that new construction and remodeling/renovation are both on the increase. Combined with slightly eased restrictions on mortgage lending (though not too eased, we hope), America could be looking at the long-hoped-for return of the real estate market.