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More than ever, the battle among automakers for sales, profit and even survival is focusing on large pickup trucks – not on the family sedans, SUVs and high-powered sports cars familiar to most consumers.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, this high-volume, highly profitable segment traditionally belonged to U.S. manufacturers Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG, but rivals like Toyota, Nissan Motor Co. and even Honda Motor Co. are in position to give U.S. auto makers a run for their money.
The competition among truck makers is opening up a range of choices for buyers. There are more models, from bare-bones two-door “regular cab” versions with prices starting below $20,000 to four-door models outfitted like luxury cars with fancy stereos, navigation systems, rear-seat entertainment screens and other options that can push their prices above $40,000.
Most makers offer at least three engine choices and three cargo bed sizes. But large pickups largely remain gas guzzlers with a rough ride and heavy handling compared with most cars.
Despite high fuel prices, these big, powerful workhorses remain so popular among motorists that they are one of the largest segments in the passenger-vehicle market, representing about 14% of total sales in 2006.
People buy large trucks to fulfill a wide range of needs, from the towing and load-carrying capacity and durability sought by RVers, farmers, ranchers and contractors, to the image of rugged self-sufficiency that suburban dads aim to cultivate.
Pickups have also evolved in the past decade, adopting carlike comforts and conveniences like roomy four-door cabs, plush leather seats, sun roofs and video entertainment systems that make them good substitutes for the family car or SUV.
Full-size pickups are especially important to domestic car makers that have steadily lost ground to Toyota, Honda and other rivals in passenger-car sales but continue to control the market for large pickups.
Indeed, it is the last bastion of U.S. dominance in the auto industry. Ford’s F-Series trucks accounted for 33% of its sales last year. The Ram accounted for 34% of Chrysler’s Dodge division sales and Silverado made up 26% of Chevrolet’s 2006 sales.