June 07, 2008
It's hard out there for a pickup

These are tough times for pickup trucks.

The pickup truck's ride as the dominant vehicle on the American roads has come to an end.

For the first time in 16 years, a pickup is not the best-selling vehicle in the monthly industry sales report. Not one, but four cars -- Toyota's Corolla and Camry and Honda's Accord and Civic -- outsold the stalwart Ford-150 in the May sales report. The last time that happened was December 1992, when the Ford Taurus topped the F-series.

"It's a sign of the times," said George Pipas, U.S. sales analysis manager for Ford. "I was convinced and several others of us were convinced that this would be a watershed month."

There's a country/western song in that, I just know it.

Toyota, which invested $1.3 billion in a Tundra plant and supplier park in San Antonio, saw sales of its full-size pickup truck fall 31.5 percent in May from a year earlier.

"Given current market conditions, we know we're facing challenges in this segment," said Bob Carter, general manager of the Toyota Division. "All of our previous assumptions are off the table."


"One month doesn't necessarily mean a fundamental change in the entire industry," Carter said. "We're seeing some segment declines. Most of the consumers are reporting that fuel prices and housing are the primary factors as to why they're changing their buying patterns."

Carter said Toyota expects that once market conditions improve and the housing industry starts to pick up in 2009 and 2010, the demand for trucks will increase.

"The core buyer of a full-size pickup can't substitute with a Corolla," he said. "We know a core group of those buyers are delaying their purchases right now. We remain, in the long term, confident of where the full-size pickup truck is going."

There's two types of pickup drivers in the world: Those who drive them because they need to, and those who don't need to but drive them anyway. The former group is going to be pretty stable, the latter one less so. Which is fine by me - the fewer cowboy/cowgirl wannabees out there menacing the streets, the better. Bring on the Corollas, I say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 07, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

So why is it that all pick-up drivers are millionaires? They must be, they blow by me when I am in the right lane of freeways / tollways in my '98 Corolla, getting 2x their gas mileage.

Posted by: Peter Wang on June 7, 2008 8:31 AM

Oh Lord.

My wife and I currently live in an exurban subdivision about 10 miles NW of Waco. Actually we just sold our house and are buying another one more in the center of town to be more sustainable and because I'm sick of 25 minute drives to every single kids event.

But this part of rural Texas is absolutely full of people living in double-wides on their little plots of scrub land with the giant pickups parked in front that they use to drive 20 miles each way to town for jobs at Wal-Mart and food processing plants.

They are so screwed.

In worse shape still are those who keep horses and have discovered that fuel prices and feed prices are inextricably linked. Abandoned horses are becoming a real problem in rural Texas as people with modest means find they can no longer feed their horses and put food on their own tables.

Posted by: Kent from Waco on June 7, 2008 9:25 AM

Buying more than you need. I'm glad gas prices are helping people re-evaluate their consumer lifestyle.

Less is more.

Posted by: Abdul on June 7, 2008 7:14 PM

I hate to sound like part of the problem, but I don't think the drop in demand for trucks and SUVs is permanent. U.S. consumers have consistently and historically rejected small vehicles. Once the initial shock of $4 or even $5 a gallon gas subsides, it's important to remember one thing. If you drive 15k miles a year, the difference between driving a 20mpg vehicle and a 35mpg vehicle is only $133 a month (at $5 per gallon).

For an extra $133 a month, I'll keep driving my big truck.

Posted by: Tundra Headquarters on June 8, 2008 7:24 PM