One of the last remaining pillars of the “Big 3” automakers’ profits – sales of full-sized pickups – is crumbling.
According to Automotive News, in October, U.S. sales of large pickups totaled 134,128 units, down 31.8% from the same period last year. Both domestic and import brands took a hit.
Until sales began to go soft in August, pickups appeared to be immune from the downturn affecting full-sized SUVs.
For the first 10 months of the year, truck-based SUVs accounted for 14.8% of total industry sales, down from 17% a year earlier. By contrast, large pickups held steady at 14.4% of total sales.
The key question is whether the sharp sales decline of full-sized pickups, a primary tow vehicle for recreational vehicles, is a short-term phenomenon. Analysts and industry executives aren’t ready to write off pickups. They blame much of the decline on the Big 3’s summer blowout sales.
They also say the entire industry suffered an abysmal month in October. Last month, U.S. light-vehicle sales slumped 14.1% to 1,146,945 units. It was the worst October on record since 1992.
Once again General Motors and Ford Motor Co., including their import brands, were hit hard. At GM, sales declined 25.9%. At Ford, they fell 25.7%.
Industry observers say the Big 3’s employee discount incentives triggered huge demand for pickups and SUVs this summer. Now it’s payback time. “Full-sized pickups were far and away the biggest pull-ahead segment” this summer, says Mark La-Neve, GM vice president for vehicle sales, service and marketing.
Analysts predict that sales of full-sized pickups will rebound. But they also say the heady days of record-breaking sales of large pickups likely are past due to unstable gasoline prices that will discourage consumers from buying a large pickup solely for personal use.
But LaNeve says he expects big pickups to remain stable. “We are still very bullish on the full-sized pickup market,” he says.
Unlike large SUVs, full-sized pickups often are working trucks. Hence, they are less susceptible to fluctuating fuel prices. Rather than buy compact pickups, some consumers appear to be staying out of the market – or bought their trucks last summer.
“A pickup buyer is a pickup buyer, and that doesn’t change,” says Jon Myers, owner of Naples Dodge in Naples, Fla. “I don’t care where gas goes.”