Forget the government shutdown, Obamacare angst and political gridlock.
The Detroit Free Press reported that gas prices are down to almost $3 a gallon and Americans are buying big pickups and SUVs at a pace the industry hasn’t seen since before the recession.
That’s great news for the Detroit Three and their shareholders. American automakers make bigger profit margins on pickups and large SUVs than on smaller cars and the trend is expected to continue with auto sales on track to top 15.6 million for 2013, which would be the strongest tally since 2007.
On Friday (Nov. 1), the national average price of a gallon of gas was $3.28, down 23 cents from a year ago.
Just a few years ago, Americans were ditching pickups and SUVs for smaller cars. Fuel economy is still important, but across-the-board improvements in fuel economy and lower gas prices make it less of a factor.
“It is no longer a deterrent in terms of a purchase decision,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors’ chief economist. “We have been seeing that for virtually the whole year.”
In October, sales of light trucks rose 15% compared with a 6.6% increase for cars, according to Autodata.
Sales increased 18% for Ram, 13% for Ford F-Series, 13% for GMC Sierra and 10% for Chevrolet Silverado.
The 2014 Dodge Durango posted a 58.5% sales surge as commercials with fictional “Anchorman” Ron Burgundy, portrayed by Will Ferrell, began saturating the airways during Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series.
Other factors in sales
The average pickup on the road in the U.S. today is still about 12 years old. Most of the buyers replacing those aged rigs need a new truck. Historically, pickup sales always surge at the end of the year.
“It is almost a perfect storm right now for truck sales to be strong,” said Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com. “And there is pent-up demand in that market as well.”
But this is not yet a replay of last decade’s housing bubble, which drove many construction workers to buy new trucks they later could not afford. Neither has the industry experienced the phenomenon of affluent suburban women buying pickups.
But trucks are now luxury vehicles, with every automaker pushing their largest, most heavily equipped crew cab trucks. There are ample numbers of consumers who can afford them.
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OEMs continue to roll out a bevy of upgrades, enhancements, and custom options for their pickup models in part to help sustain the ongoing sales boom in the light truck segment of the U.S. automotive market.
Ford Motor Co., for one, plans to introduce a new “sport package” for its F-150 pickup line this fall – the 2014 Ford F-150 Tremor – which is the first short-wheelbase regular-cab F-150 powered by Ford’s 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged direct injection V-6 EcoBoost engine.
The Tremor pickup also offers what the OEM called a “stylish FX Appearance” package with “flat-black accents including 20-inch flat-black wheels, stylized graphics on the truck body, and black badges with red lettering.
Even Ford’s Tremor is by the OEM’s admission a “niche-market” product it also exemplifies how light truck makers are trying to capitalize on the surging demand for pickups. “The new Tremor gives F-150 customers yet another option to drive a highly capable, distinctive performance truck with features typically found only in the aftermarket,” said Brian Bell, F-150 product marketing manager.
Indeed, demand is riding high for light trucks, as Ford noted that while its U.S. sales increased 13% overall this past June compared with the same month in 2012, truck sales were up 20%, compared to cars (a 12% jump) and utility vehicles such as SUVs and crossovers (up 8%).
“We’re particularly encouraged by strong retail share gains, especially in coastal markets, where the combination of great design and fuel economy is resonating with customers,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s VP for U.S. marketing, sales and Service. “We continued to see strong demand across the entire lineup in June [with] F-Series sales up 24% at 68,009 vehicles. This was the best June sales month for F-Series since 2005.”
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Full-size pickups once again dominated US auto sales in May, as small businesses — increasingly confident in the economy — raced to replace the aging pickups they held on to during the recession.
The Associated Press reported that car buyers, too, were lured by low interest rates and Memorial Day sales. Overall, US consumers bought 1.4 million vehicles in May, up 8 percent from the same month a year ago, Autodata Corp. reported.
The results suggest the auto industry will remain a bright spot in an economy that has been slowed by weak manufacturing. And the boost from the industry will help sustain the economy’s steady job growth.
Most automakers topped analysts’ expectations last month, with Nissan reporting its highest May sales ever after cutting prices on seven popular models. Chrysler, Ford, Honda, and Toyota also reported increases. Only Volkswagen’s sales were down from last May.
Automakers sold 173,972 full-size pickups in May, the highest total since a year-end rush last December, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank. Sales of Ford’s F-Series pickup, which is the country’s best-selling vehicle, rose 31% to a six-year high of 71,604. General Motors and Chrysler also posted full-size truck sales gains of more than 20%.
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Old-fashioned big pickups were heroes of April sales.
USA Today reported that full-size rigs were up a hefty 27% from April last year, according to data reported by car companies Wednesday (May 1). Overall new vehicle sales were up less, 8.5%, according to sales tracker Autodata.
Largely because of big trucks, and the success of SUVs and redesigned cars, automakers reported April new vehicle sales of about 1.3 million, an annualized pace of about 14.9 million.
That’s short of the 15 million pace that makes the industry and its watchers breathe a sigh of relief, but it was considered healthy, especially because it was marbled with some dramatic sales jumps by key models.
Automakers see strong truck sales as more like the good ol’ days than as a burst of temporary interest from tradesmen replacing old trucks – but then hanging onto them for 10 or 12 years as the recession forced them to do last time around.
“Full-size truck sales are growing three times as fast as the industry,” says Joe Hinrichs,Ford executive vice president and president of The Americas. “There’s strong (economic) growth and housing starts are up.”
Sales of Ford’s F-Series line of trucks were up 24.4% in April. About two-thirds of F-Series sales are the F-150. Ford says it’s been selling F-Series trucks at a rate of one every 45.5 seconds this year.
Chrysler is reconfiguring its Warren, Mich., Ram truck plant to build a plant-record 300,000 Ram pickups annually, up more than 32% from last year’s production. Chrysler also builds Rams in Mexico for the U.S.
Surging truck sales paved the way for one of the biggest auto sales months in nearly six years, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
That’s a sign of the housing rebound making its way into new construction, as contractors buy new pickups. Growth in the vital housing and auto industries are giving a welcome boost to the broader economy.
“Housing is good,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales at General Motors Co. “And the individuals that make their living as a result of that are buying trucks.”
“It’s very important, mainly because construction spending has lagged compared to previous economic recoveries, and it is now beginning to become more positive,” said Gerd-Ulf Krueger, a principal at HousingEcon.com Inc.
It’s not just new-home construction fueling sales of pickup trucks, which represent a key tow vehicle for recreational vehicles.
“Now homeowners feel comfortable doing repairs and renovations, and the trades people have enough business to start replacing vehicles,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with auto price information company TrueCar.com.
Growth in the energy sector also is powering truck sales, said Jenny Lin, senior economist at Ford Motor Co.
Ford saw F-Series pickup sales soar 16% to 67,513 last month. That was almost double the number for the Nissan Altima, the best-selling passenger car in March.
Sales of Chrysler Group’s Ram trucks and Toyota’s smaller Tacoma trucks jumped 25% and 21%, respectively, over the same month last year. Chevrolet Silverado pickup sales rose 8%.
Sales of trucks from all manufacturers grew 9% last month compared with a year earlier, while car sales fell 1%, Autodata Corp. reported.
Toprak noted that strong truck sales during the first quarter of the year — usually the worst for construction because of the weather — is unusual. The last quarter typically has the most truck sales, as companies make equipment investment decisions based on their profits and expected tax bill.
Americans want new cars and trucks, and they’re not going to let higher gas prices or political dysfunction in Washington stand in their way.
The Associated Press reported that General Motors, Toyota, Ford and most other automakers posted at least modest sales gains for February. Industry analysts estimate last month’s sales rose about 7% from a year earlier as pent-up demand and cheap financing kept the U.S. auto sales recovery powering along.
GM sales rose 7%, while Ford’s increased 9 percent. Chrysler and Volkswagen also reported increases, but both slowed from the torrid pace of the past two years. Chrysler sales were up 4% over a year earlier, while VW sales were up 3 percent. Toyota sales were up just over 4%, while Hyundai posted a 2% gain.
Of the major automakers, Nissan and Honda were down. Nissan sales were off almost 7% from a record February of 2012, while Honda blamed its 2% drop on the winter snowstorm in the Northeast.
But while sales for 2013 are expected to top last year’s figures, monthly increases are likely to be smaller than the double-digit gains the industry has regularly posted as sales recovered from historic lows following the recession.
Still, GM’s sales were the best since February of 2008, led by the Chevrolet Silverado pickup with an increase of 29%. Kurt McNeil, the company’s U.S. sales chief, said the recovery in new home construction is helping to boost the economy and pickup sales. When home construction thrives, businesses tend to invest more to replace vehicles. The average age of a U.S. pickup truck is just over 11 years.
Ford also reported strong sales of its F-Series pickups, up 15%. The company also posted record February totals for the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan.
Pickup truck sales are expected to outpace the broader U.S. auto market this year helped by a recovering housing market and a slew of new models from the three big U.S. automakers, executives and analysts said on Sunday (Feb. 10).
Reuters reported that revamped models from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC will be on view this week at the Detroit auto show.
Ford and GM are fierce competitors in the full-size pickup segment where profit margins are larger compared to cars. Pickup trucks made up about 11% of the U.S. market last year, well below the historical average of 17%.
“The pickup truck sector is poised to outperform the rest of the market this year,” said Citi analyst Itay Michaeli at a conference of the Society of Automotive Analysts.
Analysts said gas prices were unlikely to surge this year, which would support truck sales. Micheali said that a mix of pent-up demand and new models will drive pickup sales this year.
GM is counting on a new version of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks to show investors and car buyers that the No.1 U.S. automaker is back on track after its $50 billion U.S. taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009.
GM’s new trucks are on view Monday, along with a new RAM 1500 pickup from Chrysler. GM’s arch rival in the pickup truck market, Ford, will tease a concept version of its upcoming F-150 truck Tuesday. The F-150 will be built for the 2015 model year.
“The majority of pickup vehicles on the road are about to be redesigned,” Micheali said. “The product cycle will unleash demand.”
Most of the big car companies are reporting double-digit gains for January as last year’s momentum in U.S. auto sales continues into 2013.
The Associated Press reported that sales at Toyota rose 27% and jumped 22% at Ford, including a 22% gain in the company’s F-Series pickup truck. GM and Chrysler each reported 16% gains compared with a year earlier. It was Chrysler’s best January in five years.
GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra each saw increases of over 30% while sales of the Ram pickup, Chrysler’s top-selling vehicle, rose 14% from a year earlier. Those gains give a strong indication that businesses are replacing aging pickup trucks that they kept through the Great Recession.
But Volkswagen, which reported a 31% increase in 2012, saw sales slow a bit, growing only 7%.
Other automakers report sales later Friday. The figures so far indicate that Americans bought new vehicles at a strong pace last month, as the industry remains a bright spot in a tepid U.S. economic recovery.
“The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry,” Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president, said in a statement.
Chrysler estimates that total U.S. industry sales hit an annual rate of 15.5 million in January. If that holds for the rest of the year, automakers will sell 1 million more vehicles than in 2012, when sales rose 13%.
Analysts are expecting sales for all of 2013 to reach 15 million to 15.5 million. Although still far from the recent peak of about 17 million in 2005, the industry could sell a whopping 5 million more cars and trucks than it did in 2009, the worst year in at least three decades.
At Ford, the growth was led by the Fusion midsize car, which saw a 65% increase, and Explorer SUV sales rose 46%.
Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co., and General Motors – the so-called ‘Detroit Three” – all finished 2012 with strong sales number for all of their vehicles, with pickups in particular witnessing heavy demand.
Fleet Owner reported Chrysler said its U.S. sales in December totaled 152,367 units, a 10% increase compared with December 2011, with sales for the year exceeding 1.65 million units – a 21% jump compared to 2011. Chrysler’s Ram Truck division reported a sales increase of 16% in December, with sales for the year topping 300,928 units; an increase of 17 % compared to 2011.
The company noted its Ram pickup truck recorded its best annual sales numbers since 2007, with sales of the Heavy Duty Ram up 20% and sales of the Light Duty Ram pickup increasing 14%, while sales of the Ram Cargo Van increased 287% in December versus the same month in 2011.
“We also recorded 33-consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth and our strongest annual sales in five years, while seven of our vehicles recorded their best ever annual sales in 2012,” noted Reid Bigland, president and CEO of Chrysler’s Dodge division and head of U.S. sales for the company.
According to Fleet Owner, Ford said that its U.S. sales grew across the board in 2012, with cars up 5% and trucks up 2% for the year. Overall, Ford said it ended 2012 with over 2.16 million vehicles sold.The automaker added that its F-Series sales were up 10% for 2012 and that Ford commercial truck sales finished the year up 7% over 2011; marking the best sales year since 2008.
Overall, Ford said it sold 645,316 F-Series units in 2012, with total Ford brand truck sales – including Transit Connect and E-Series – up 2% for the year at 829,477 vehicles sold. Finally, the automaker noted that its December 2012 sales of 214,222 vehicles marks its best December sales month since 2006.
GM noted that sales volume this past December marked its best December month in five years, with deliveries up 5% year over year to 245,733 vehicles.
December was also GM’s best retail sales month of 2012, with retail volume up 38% from November – about double the industry’s estimated increase.
“All four GM brands increased their sales year over year in December and we were strong across the board in cars, crossovers and pickup trucks,” said Kurt McNeil, vp of GM’s U.S. sales operations.
He said December 2012 sales of pickups, vans and SUVs were equal to volumes sold in December 2011, but compared to November 2012, December truck sales increased 52%. McNeil added that year-over-year sales of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup increased 6%, while sales of the GMC Sierra pickup were up 13% – the highest level of pickup sales for GM since September 2008.
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Ford and Ram pickup-truck sales are booming. At General Motors? Not so much: They’re down 10% last month. There’s a reason for that, and it could change soon.
CBS MarketWatch reported that Detroit’s Big Three reported November car sales Monday (Dec. 3), and the combined results were surprisingly strong. Despite ominous talk of the fiscal cliff, consumer confidence is on the rise. If Congress and the White House can hammer out a budget deal, that confidence will get even stronger.
A key reason Americans are more sure of themselves financially is the housing market, which continues a slow but steady recovery from its near-death experience four years ago. Home prices are rising, there are fewer foreclosed properties out there and new homes are once again being built.
All this points too better demand for pickup trucks, made even better by all the rebuilding needed after superstorm Sandy.
Ford Motor Co. reported sales of its F-series pickups jumped nearly 18% to 56,299 last month, their best November since 2005 and a huge driver in Ford’s 6% sales increase.
Chrysler Group LLC’s Ram trucks continue to shred market share, up 23% to 25,074 vehicles from a year ago, for its best November since 2007.
Then there’s General Motors Co., the odd one out. Sales of GM’s full-size pickups fell 8% last month. Sales of its top brand Silverado were down 10% at 30,674 units, pumping up inventory to what the company estimates is a 139-day supply.
GM claims it has offered far fewer incentives last month than the other guys. That cost the company sales.
But GM has what it hopes is an ace up its sleeve. It’s set to unveil an extensively redesigned Chevy Silverado later this month, and push it out to dealerships early next year. After seven years without an overhaul, this is long overdue.
The new model can be counted on to pull in GM loyalists. If it gets good reviews, the truck might also reclaim market share lost to the newer Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 models.
So with construction on the upswing and a new Silverado model on the way and clearance sales around the corner, it’s hard not to imagine GM’s pickup-truck sales picking up some badly needed momentum over the next few months.
Of course, all bets are off if a budget impasse in Washington slams the brakes on the housing market.
Big pickups carried U.S. auto sales to their highest level in three years, according to an Associated Press report.
Demand for full-size pickups jumped 16% in August, helping to make it the strongest sales month since August 2009. Overall auto sales increased 20% from a year earlier to nearly 1.3 million, according to Autodata corp.
The rising demand shows that businesses need to replace aging trucks and feel more confident about the recovery in U.S. housing — an industry where pickups are essential for hauling equipment and crews.
“Businesses don’t usually go buy a fleet of trucks unless they have good reason to believe that business will be ramping up,” said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the TrueCar.com auto pricing service
Ford, GM and Chrysler, the biggest makers of full-size trucks, notched double-digit gains in overall sales last month.
In pickups, Ford’s F-Series, the top-selling vehicle in America, saw a 19% sales increase, as did Chrysler’s Ram pickup. Sales of General Motors’ Chevy Silverado rose 4%, while the GMC Sierra was up 9%. Toyota’s struggling big truck, the Tundra, posted a huge increase of 68%.
The rising demand helped push total U.S. auto sales last month to an annual rate of 14.5 million. That’s the best monthly sales pace since the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” rebate program in August of 2009.
Pent-up demand is part of the reason for last month’s truck increase. The average vehicle on U.S. roads is nearing 11 years old, and some are simply wearing out.
But automakers and industry analysts say the economic recovery — new housing in particular — is also starting to make buyers feel more comfortable about a big-ticket purchase.
There’s a direct correlation between the housing market and pickup sales, they say. When people who work in housing or other construction are more confident, they tend to invest in equipment. Some may be adding crews and need vehicles to get them to and from job sites.
Big pickups with small V-6 engines — the red-haired orphans of truck country — always occupied the back rows on dealers’ lots.
As reported by the Dallas Morning News, no one but fleet buyers and bargain hunters ever wanted them anyway.
But this year, as automakers reach for every tool to prepare for dramatically tougher fuel economy standards in 2016, those orphans are shoving aside king V-8s, even in bigger-is-better Texas.
“We’d put them (V-6s) on the front row today if we could get them,” said Randall Reed, who owns nine dealerships in Texas, including Prestige Ford and Park Cities Ford/Lincoln in Dallas.
The challenges ahead are daunting.
Cars’ fuel economy will need to increase more than 29%, from the current 30.2 miles per gallon to a 39 mpg average by model year 2016.
Truck mileage must increase 27.6% — though that number is misleading because no full-size pickup can even achieve the current standard of 23.5 mpg, including hybrids.
And those are just the first steps. By 2025, automakers’ fleets will need to average 54.5 mpg before exemptions for full-size trucks are figured into the complex formula.
“It’s definitely a radical step up from where we were,” said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. “The party’s over.”
Consider this: Only two of the top 10-selling vehicles in the U.S. last year — both cars — averaged 30 mpg. The rest didn’t even meet current standards.
Called corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, the federal standards were enacted decades ago to cut the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and, more recently, to reduce greenhouse gases.
For years, CAFE standards have remained flat, allowing automakers to focus on sexier — and more profitable — attractions such as bigger, more powerful engines.
Manufacturers often had to pay millions in fines for not meeting CAFE standards, but they were considered just a cost of doing business.
As a result, Todd Turner has little sympathy for the auto industry’s CAFE struggles.
“Think about the millions that manufacturers sunk into size and performance over the last two decades,” said Turner, president of Car Concepts of Thousand Oaks, Calif. “It could have been devoted to fuel economy.”
Still, most automakers now need to invest billions to improve fuel economy — and those costs will likely be passed on to consumers.
Fuel-saving technology, more efficient engines and transmissions, and other equipment will cost an average of $2,700 per vehicle, Omotoso said. What is still unclear is how much of that will be added to the sticker prices.
“We could have a real disconnect where people will perceive that they are getting less car and being charged more,” said George Hoffer, a business professor at the University of Richmond who follows the auto industry. “The government is effectively ordering all this technology. What if buyers won’t pay for it?”
Ford Motor Co., which, like many automakers, still makes most of its profit from trucks, is encouraged by the early success of its new V-6 engines — though the company realizes that even sales stars like the EcoBoost V-6 are just a start.
“This is the first time since 1985 that we’ve sold more V-6s than V-8s — a very, very pleasant surprise that sets us up to keep building toward those (2016) standards,” said Doug Scott, truck marketing manager.
LeaseTrader.com, the most recognized name in car leasing, says demand for mid-size trucks and SUV leases has rebounded in just a short time since gas prices have fallen from their springtime highs around $4 per gallon.
The Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration said this week that national gas prices have dropped approximately 46 cents since early May, currently sitting near $3.50 per gallon. Gas prices have been a largely discussed topic since February when they rose sharply, peaking at a national average of $3.97 in early May.
Demand for vehicle leases in the mid-size truck and SUV category on LeaseTrader.com has risen an average of 8.3% compared with June 1 levels. The trend bodes well for the recreation vehicle industry, which has seen a jump in lightweight trailer sale capable of being towed by smaller trucks and SUV’s.
“Throughout spring when gas prices rose sharply, the anticipated ascension of fuel-efficient vehicle demand came to fruition,” said Sergio Stiberman, CEO and founder of LeaseTrader.com. “But interest in mid-size trucks and SUVs was more prevalent than in 2008 because of a stable economy. With gas prices easing off their highs, car lease shoppers have started to inquire about truck and SUVs, feeling less financial pressure at the pump.”
Sales of full-size pickups, an economic indicator and a profit driver for the Detroit Three, have stalled this spring.
USA Today reported that after proportionately outgaining other market segments in January and February, sales of full-size pickups have been worse than the total U.S. auto market’s performance for the last three months, compared with the same months in 2010.
In May, pickup sales were 12.7% lower, while the industry fell 3.7%, amid fears that the economic recovery is losing speed. Pickup sales usually correlate with needs of workers who require hauling and towing capacity. Last month’s U.S. jobless rate rose from 9% to 9.1%, and the number of jobs created was the fewest in eight months. Another indicator — the Dow Jones industrial average — has lost 6.7% since the start of May. Home prices continue to slide.
Still, most analysts say they believe the pickup slowdown is a bump and expect sales — hurt by high gas prices that peaked in early May — to improve by late summer.
“We were seeing a reaction from people starting to say, ‘I’m hearing some mixed signals in the economy, and I don’t know if I can handle $4-a-gallon gas and a new truck payment,’” Ford analyst George Pipas said. “It’s just temporary.”
But even if the economy looks better and pickup sales improve late this summer and this fall, few industry observers expect pickups will reach their boom sales levels from the last decade, when gas was cheap and home sales were brisk.
Pipas says that means Detroit automakers need to shift to leaning more on car and crossover vehicle sales for profits. Ford is counting on pickup sales to recover to 12% to 13% of the U.S. market, still down from the 14% to 15% they represented several years ago. Pickups were 10% of sales in May.
“I have not seen any traffic with full-sized pickups,” Grand Rapids, Mich., Chevy and GMC dealer Todd Wenzel said. “Nobody postponing (a purchase), nobody buying — just very, very soft.” That sometimes happens in the spring, he said.