Americans’ appetite for trucks of all kinds rebounded strongly in December, boosting pickups, vans and SUVs to a combined 54.8% of new vehicle sales.
USA Today reported that the truck trend seems to defy logic: Trucks use a lot of fuel, and gasoline is stubbornly above $3 a gallon.
Trucks, mainly pickups, are “the workhorse of contractors and tradesmen,” and their business appears to be picking up, says Brian Irwin, head of the auto practice at consultant A.T. Kearney.
Even if it isn’t, he notes, recession-hammered businesses and tradesmen put off buying new vehicles so long that “eventually they say, ‘I need to replace that white pickup.’ ”
Two automakers illustrate the point.
Ford Motor, casting itself as a fuel-economy champ emphasizing small cars, nevertheless sold three trucks in December for every car. For all of 2011, the ratio was two trucks for every car. Overall, Ford truck sales were up and car sales were down despite new Fiesta and Focus fuel-sipping small cars.
Honda, likewise known for fuel-efficient small cars, reported that its Fit subcompact was the only car with improved sales in December and that its Insight hybrid hatchback almost disappeared from the December tallies, attracting just 690 buyers, a drop of 57.8%.
At the same time, sales of Honda’s Pilot SUV and Odyssey family van both were strong.
The strength of truck sales mainly was due to pickups and incentives that were more generous than usual. In fact, General Motors sold so many full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierras that its pickup inventory — bloated as recently as November — fell below the 200,000 that GM wanted on hand at year’s end.
Chevy Silverado remained the No. 2 seller in the U.S. last year, behind the Ford F-150.
Other truck stars:
• Ford’s new-design Explorer SUV sales were up 37.4% in December and 123.6% for all of 2011.
• Infiniti’s full-size QX, a $60,000 luxury SUV, enjoyed its best sales month in seven years in December.
• Chrysler Group’s Jeep brand seems unstoppable. Sales were up 41% in December as updates and new models continue to attract buyers.
Pickups and SUVs boosted U.S. auto sales in September as dealers offered promotions, gas prices fell and contractors replaced aging fleets of work trucks.
The Associated Press reported that truck sales at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford grew in the double digits, outpacing cars. The September increases built on a healthy performance in August, when new models, cheaper financing and pent-up demand lifted the industry after several disappointing months.
Analysts had expected more Japanese vehicles to fill showrooms after months of shortages related to March’s earthquake and tsunami. But Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., the two automakers hit hardest by the March earthquake, continued to struggle in September. Toyota sales were down 17.5%, while Honda’s fell 8%.
General Motors Co.’s sales rose 20% compared with last September, led by a 34% rise in sales of full-size pickups and SUVs. Chrysler Group LLC’s overall sales rose 27%, including a 45% jump in Ram pickup sales.
At Ford, sales rose just 9% overall, but sales of SUVs rose 35% and pickup sales climbed 15%.
The price of regular gasoline in September dropped nearly 30 cents per gallon from the peak this year of $3.90 in May.
Promotions were especially helpful to vehicle sales in September, according to Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates. GM, for example, was offering zero-percent financing and $1,000 cash on the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup. Sales of the Silverado, one of America’s best-selling vehicles, rose 36%.
Small businesses also needed to buy new trucks.
“There remains an older fleet of commercial-use trucks with small and medium contractors, so some of those could be coming back into the market to take advantage of the current conditions,” Schuster said.