Has the U.S. reached peak pickup?

It’s a question on the minds of industry executives and dealers as sales plateau and automakers — specifically the Detroit 3 — expand or update their pickup offerings to keep hauling in big profits.

Automotive News reported that one Wall Street analyst raised the issue during recent earnings calls with General Motors and Ford Motor Co., which get a significant portion of their income from pickups.

“GM and other OEMs are feasting on strong demand for trucks and SUVs,” Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas said in a note to investors last week projecting that GM’s profits would decline in the next three years by roughly a third. “We don’t think this will last.”

Profits from pickups are essential for the Detroit 3 to fuel the sizable investments they’re making in new technologies such as autonomous and electrified vehicles. Fewer pickups sold in the coming years would hinder their ability to prepare for radical changes disrupting the industry in the future.

IHS Markit’s principal automotive analyst, Stephanie Brinley, argues the question isn’t whether the industry has reached “peak truck” but rather “sustainable truck, and is that level sustainable? And for how long?”

“I think that the cyclical nature of the industry hasn’t really changed, and automakers need to grab onto what’s making money,” Brinley said. “Profitability always matters, but right now, you’ve got a capital-intensive industry that’s trying to fund two different paths.”

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