Battered by high gasoline prices and a weak economy, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC braced themselves last fall for a tough time selling full-size pickups.
As reported by the St. Louis Dispatch, Ford delayed the launch of its all-new F-150 by about a month to shed old inventory. Chrysler, meanwhile, unveiled its redesigned 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 on schedule but soon offered incentives of up to $1,000.
Neither plan really worked, analysts say. Consumers still aren’t buying these vehicles like they used to.
The full-size pickup market isn’t dead, but nobody expects it to return to its glory days in 2004, when U.S. pickup sales peaked at 2.5 million vehicles. Last year, these sales totaled only 1.6 million.
“The truck movement is clearly over,” said Sean McAlinden, chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Five years ago, sales were driven by a booming housing market, enabling the construction industry — a steady customer of full-size pickups — to buy the vehicles, said George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst. Gasoline prices, too, had been hovering around $2 a gallon, luring the so-called leisure buyer and those pulling recreational trailers.
Then construction began to slow. Gas prices inched up. The economy weakened. And by last year, the full-size segment sales eroded to 1.6 million vehicles, Pipas said at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “We do not ever expect that we will see those days (of 2004’s sales) again,” he said this week.
The sudden drop in pickup demand last year left Ford and Chrysler with bloated inventories, a challenging situation when both were preparing to launch redesigned models in the fall.
Originally, Ford intended to start selling the 2009 model truck in October but held off the launch until November. It hoped to use the delay to clear out the 2008 inventories.
Meanwhile, Chrysler offered incentives of up to $1,000 on the 2009 model shortly after the launch.
“Generally, that’s something the automakers do not do,” said Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst with auto information website Edmunds.com. But it’s not going to be unusual in the current sales climate, she added.