The 12 Most Profitable Vehicles Since 1990

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

What matters in the world of cars? It’s a question we’re always asking here at TTAC, and depending on your perspective, the answer could be almost anything. But for all of their cultural significance, cars are ultimately a business, and if you had to boil down the value of a vehicle to one single attribute, it would have to be profitability. But that’s a tough measure to make, considering automakers don’t typically break out profits by vehicle, let alone by model line. Which is why I was so excited to see a list of the 12 most profitable vehicles since 1990 compiled by Max Warburton of Bernstein Research, and published in Automotive News Europe [sub]. So, what’s the most profitable vehicle in modern automotive history? The answer can be found just after the jump…

1. Ford F series

2. GM full-sized pickups

3. Dodge Ram

4. Mercedes S class

5. BMW 5 series

6. BMW 3 series

7. Mercedes E class

8. Lexus RX SUV

9. Jeep Grand Cherokee

10. Honda Accord

11. Porsche 911

12. Toyota Camry

Perhaps not the most surprising list imaginable, although the obscene profitability of pickups may just take your breath away. According to Warburton’s research, the “big three” American pickup models created $108 billion in pre-tax earnings since 1990, about the same amount as the rest of this list combined. As Warburton explains

The sweet spot for the industry is high prices and decent volumes (BMW 5 series, Mercedes E Class) and medium-sized price points and massive volumes (Ford F-series pickups, SUVs)

But, according to the respected analyst, that may be changing. Not only are pickup profits going to face pressure from emissions regulations, but there’s another dynamic worth noting:

Average volumes per product and body style are falling because the market is fractured into smaller and smaller sub-segments.

In short, per-model profitability may already have peaked for the industry. Which is why per-platform profitability is taking center stage. Hopefully we’ll soon see some new analysis in this regard…

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9 of 36 comments
  • Jimmyy Jimmyy on Nov 23, 2011

    Detroit pickups are profitable because the government has trade laws that protect this market for Detroit. Foreign pickups are subject to a tarrif.

    • See 6 previous
    • Safe as milk Safe as milk on Nov 28, 2011

      @damikco don't be complacent. kaizen or die.

  • Ry_Trapp0 Ry_Trapp0 on Nov 26, 2011

    Wait, but I thought the Detroit 3 were stupid and short sighted for producing all this big, ugly, gas chugging, shitty trucks and SUVs - this list has obviously been influenced by the UAW![/bullshit_rhetoric]

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