By on December 18, 2017

chevy 350

In case you’ve just exited a 60-year coma or immigrated to this country without any prior knowledge of it, Americans have a fondness for pickup trucks. So do automotive manufacturers. Last month, the average selling price for full-size pickups was $47,393. For General Motors, that translates to about $11,000 in profit for each truck sold — but the ceiling is even higher. Two years ago, Ford was rumored to be making $13,000 on each F-Series sold and its domestic competitors weren’t far behind.

Meanwhile, the average haul for an SUV or crossover isn’t likely to surpass $2,000 on its very best days and car profitability is typically even lower (unless you’re Porsche). That’s why “Truck Month” seems to take place five times a year. It’s also why domestic manufactures are going to ensure pickups “dominate” the 2018 North American International Auto Show. Of course, was there ever a year when Detroit’s automotive trade show wasn’t at least partially overrun with trucks? 

Excluding those years where gas was expensive and jobs were scarce, pickup sales have been exceptionally strong in the 21st century. This has resulted in loads of special editions, new trim levels, and options — all of which help automakers rake in the dough. “Short of an oil shock, and that would mean an international crisis of some kind, I don’t see any dark clouds on the horizon for these trucks,” Jerry Hirsch, editor at Trucks.com told the Detroit Free Press in a recent interview.

While domestic truck sales are getting awfully close to their pre-recession recession peak, there’s no reason to assume the bubble will suddenly burst without some kind of external influence. Nobody in 2007 suddenly despised pickups, they just didn’t want to be the one to fuel them when gasoline suddenly became a luxury item. So, with fuel looking to stay relatively flat for the near future, America’s truck makers are preparing to dazzle the crowds at NAIAS.

While General Motors is rumored to offer the upcoming Chevrolet Silverado with a carbon-fiber bed, and recently air-dropped the tough-looking Trail Boss to celebrate 100 years of GM trucks, it has promised to bring something special to Detroit next month. Fiat Chrysler has been much more secretive with its next-generation Ram 1500. However, eagle-eyed enthusiasts noticed test platforms using a split, dual-function tailgate that can be operated remotely, plus newly aerodynamic bodywork.

“We’re going to focus on the things that we do, I think, well, and that is to build really capable, excellent trucks. We’re going to continue to grow our brand. We are fortunate enough to continue to grow the loyalty to the brand, which is very important in the commercial world and the new light duty will just build on all those elements,” Mike Manley, who heads Ram for FCA, said at the LA Auto Show. “We’re going to have a very, very compelling offer.”

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65 Comments on “Blatant Truism: Americans and Automakers Still Love the Pickup Truck...”


  • avatar

    That Chevrolet (C10?) is too sporting and low, and its Fuchs-style wheels don’t work for me.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    After renting a UHaul Sierra, I kind of get it. Aside from the cultural reasons, just practically speaking it was easy to get into/out of, and it had great visibility. V8 sounded good and got it moving nicely, but the cheap shopping cart rubber tires lost traction almost instantly in the wet.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “but the cheap shopping cart rubber tires lost traction almost instantly in the wet”

      I never quote Ralph Nader but he was very accurate when he criticized the automakers tire choices back in the 60s: “All they care about is that they’re black, round, and cheap. And as long as they’re the cheap the other two aren’t so important.”

      Luckily tires are easy to change.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        To be fair, tires have come a long way since the 60s. Lowly econoboxes are twirling the skidpad at close to 0.9gs on cheapo economy tires. Heck, “performance SUVs” are gripping close to or above 1g on high performance tires. I’d imagine a RCSB V8 truck by anybody to be full on fun. “Hillbilly sports car”

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Nader’s point was that there were BETTER tires out there but the automakers weren’t fitting them as standard equipment.

          Just like today I basically expect that on non-performance models the tires will basically last about 30,000 – 40,000 miles. The automaker will spec the cheapest tire they think their customers will accept and then when they wear out I’ll buy a tire that’s worth a dang and fits my families driving needs.

          • 0 avatar
            raph

            Depends on the market I think. Vehicle manufacturers are always looking to minimize costs but you are seeing more and more premium fitments on otherwise common vehicles.

            My GT350 for instance didnt come with a crap tire like a Pirelli or Goodyear or even an okay tier 2 tire like BFGoodrich (owned by Michelin) but instead came from the factory with Michelins developed specifically for the car.

            Generally you see tier 2 and tier 3 stuff where people value shop these days. They dont give a damn other than the bottom line on the contract.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            I mean, I can’t blame them. Even cheap tires today are fine as long as you don’t ask much of them- which most drivers don’t. With modern tire tech, modern suspension tech and all the safety stuff we have there’s no need to get expensive rubber for safety.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I to am giving into the mania.

    Since I can’t get automakers to build V8 BOF RWD Impalas and Galaxies might as well buy what they actually take pride in building.

    Very likely my next automotive purchase will be domestic fullsize BOF V8 4×4 American goodness.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      CAFE may have really helped the pickup market.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        No $hit. ;-)

        If you look at the best selling domestic vehicles in the 1970s and look at the best sellers from the after the introduction of the original Ranger based Explorer you’re going to find much similarity. Largely BOF RWD (4×4 optional on the trucks) and weights will be fairly close as well.

        Thank goodness we now have enough technology to make those trucks and SUVs hit decent fuel economy numbers.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          This. I am largely convinced that trucks/SUVs with a few exceptional performance vehicles (Corvette, Hellcats, Mustang, GT, etc) are the only thing domestics actually make an effort for and don’t half ass.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Yep, the truck market is predominantly people who grew up in domestic BOF land barges and want a similar feel. The questions is: what happens to Detroit’s cash cow after that generation passes on and the market shifts to people who grew up in minivans and Accords?

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          …how I stopped worrying and learned to love CAFE.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Gen. Buck Turgidson: Well, I, uh, don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      The only differences are

      – the availability of 4WD
      – the cargo area
      – the ride height

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I’m a pickup truck guy – but I like ’em small to midsized. The Nissan hardbody, at least when I was single, was plenty of truck for me. It could haul junk / sofas / yard work stuff without any problem and was easy to drive, even in the city.

    A Toyota T100 4X4 was slightly larger but still had a usable bed and could – with enough wind behind it – get 20ish mpg on the highway. Yeah it was underpowered but still rugged.

    The current crop of pickups do nothing for me. I am eying a local ’71 Chevy though. Single cab, bench seat, 2WD, Chevy 350. That’s what I like.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the T100 is right-sized, looked great with LC styling, and was plenty durable. It always gets my vote, even though it was a weird sort of not-Hilux thing for the US market.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        I too love the form factor (and build quality and ruggedness) of the T100.

        Here’s a clean looking one for sale in Kentucky:
        louisville.craigslist.org/cto/d/toyota-t100/6410767568.html

        • 0 avatar

          I like the two-tone, but no interior pics and a label of 1999 (last year was 1998) bothers me.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            But it’s got “run strong four wheel drive” and an 8 cylinder engine. Sold!

            I might actually pay real money to have the “4WD” mudflaps replaced with ones embossed with “run strong”

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            On the later ones (’96+), you have to bring a 3-pound hammer to beat on the frame rails with.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            bumpy what was it that changed for ’96? Did the T100s start using Dana frames?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I actually thought the T100 with long bed, regular cab, 4×4, and V8 was the PERFECT size for a pickup.

            However in this little corner of country nobody bought them. I see one or two occasionally – an extended cab short bed and a standard cab long bed.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            PrincipalDan as far as I know there was no such thing as a factory V8 T100, the first iForce V8 (1UZFE 4.7L) was in the gen 1 Tundra. T100s were limited to the 4Runner/Taco engines: 2.7L 4cyl and 3.4L V6. Speaking of those gen 1 Tundras, I think is looking better and better by the day in terms of being the “right” size and having handsome styling. The pre-facelifted ones with chrome grilles and bumpers especially are real lookers to my eye. Too bad they hold their value as well as they do, and on top of that suffer the same frame rot issues as Tacomas of the same vintage, AND the same gen 1 Toyota wishbone IFS “inverted” balljoint design in the front end that makes them susceptible to sudden balljoint separation if neglected.

            I’m actually already toying of getting back into a truck come spring, kind of mulling over how old or new I want to go. Part of me wants to stay in the beater-bracket cost wise, or at least within the range of what I think I can flip my Pilot for ($5k-ish). Another Ranger (extended cab, 4wd and 5spd this time me-thinks), something like that T100, a GMT400, or a gnarly older F150 would fit the bill. Or maybe one of those Tundras I mentioned if I could ever find a cleaner example for reasonable money.

            indianapolis.craigslist.org/cto/d/f150-for-sale/6394869089.html

          • 0 avatar
            TonyJZX

            I get where ya coming from. Outside of the US, mid size trucks rule. Even the various US special forces end up using Toyota Hilux dual cabs.

            However these have their own compromises. Generally rear seat space isnt the same as even a CUV, the rear load space is usually only 1.5 meters or maybe 60 inches but I suppose you can diagonal your load.

            Also parking isnt super easy in many urban complexes. I also needed a canopy on mine as I tended to use the rear load as a portable garbage bin. Cops didnt seem to like seeing beer cans strewn in the back, I cant imagine why.

            Some jurisdictions also think you’re a commerical tradesman so you get the special high priced registration insurance. You didnt get that in an SUV.

            Fuel economy strangely isnt an issue as they all run the ubiquitous 2.0 liter DOHC turbo diesel four.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Yeah, many of the later T100s were built in Indiana with the garbage Dana frames. There were still a few J-VINs brought in, but those were generally base-spec trucks.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @gtem – you’re right of course.

            I’m trying to remember if fullsize truck development was where a Japanese Toyota engineer said to an American employee: “If we can build a 6 with the power of an 8, why does not having an 8 matter?” The American told him – “You do not understand the American market.”

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I too like the T-100. Its on my list of beater work trucks, along with an I-6 F-150 and a few others. I know I couldn’t really tow a lot with it, so hauling vehicles bigger than a Taurus would have to fall to something with 8 cylinders, or the clack clack clack of a diesel.

      I thought about buying one of the many 4.2L V-6 F-150s I see with bad engines and dropping a Cummins 4BT (4 cylinder) turbo diesel in it. That would make a good work truck.

  • avatar

    And 5 years later they’re covered in rust and worth a fraction of what they cost new.

    Keep on keeping on, America.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      …and worth a fraction of what they cost new.

      lol, wut?

      Have you priced used trucks lately? 5-6 years old, 60,000-80,000 miles, and still worth roughly 50% of purchase price at trade-in.

      Try that with a sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        Tinn-Can

        Yeah… That is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen on this site… We sell off our work trucks running strong after 150k miles for about half of what we bought them for. We could make a very strong business case for buying new trucks every year and auctioning them off afterwards and come out ahead on maintenance and depreciation but apparently that looks bad to the public. Is there any other segment that holds value as well as trucks do?

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          I’ve actually been debating in my head if it wouldn’t just make sense to be “that guy.” The one who buys a new truck, makes the loan payments, trades it in for another one when the loan is paid off, lather rinse repeat.

          No maintenance other than tires, gas, and oil – trade in value high enough that you could likely lower your loan payments after the first cycle. Spend the majority of you life under warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        Menar Fromarz

        WUT is partly true, as resale values are good, however, they all rust out over the rear wheels and or have paint issues at some point. They look nice when new though, but I’m still amazed how the automakers are unable to keep the rear arches from perforating within 5-7 years max. At least here in Canuckistan. If I was buying new, (which I’m not) I would take a chassis cab with no box, and promptly send it out to the fitters for an alum. tilt box with lots of lockable checker plate bins and a headache rack. Oh, and possibly a lowering kit to get the deck height somewhat in the usable range without a “man step”. But then again, I use the thing as TRUCK.
        But hey, as a modern four door ’70’s sedan equivalent, they are quite nice though!

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Ricky Spanish. Welcome to TTAC.

      As for the resale on domestic full size trucks, you could not be more wrong. If the article was about 7 series BMW, Maserati sedan or others of that ilk, I would say you are correct. The post 100k import sedan has the resale of steaming dog crap.

      The salt belt has rust issues, and I believe a lot of that can be cured with some owner TLC, here in the mountain west a 300k truck that has been cared for will just about look new, and have zero rust.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        Of course, the largest-selling pickups for sale in this country have exactly 0% chance of rusting out over the rear wheel arches or anywhere else on the body, for that matter. I mean, there’s a solution to the problem sitting right there at the fat end of the market.

    • 0 avatar
      SD 328I

      You don’t know the truck market, even when gas was $4.00 a gallon in California, I couldn’t get a 4 year old F150 with over 60,000 miles for less than $20,000.

      Full size American trucks have some of the highest resale value in the automarket today.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Keep pretending that is the case.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Where’s my Lightning, Silverado SS, Ram SRT, and Canyon Syclone?

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Automakers are bringing in much more than $2000 per unit on SUVs and CUVs. Take a look at Tahoe, Suburban, or Expedition pricing, a good chunk higher than the trucks they are based off of and not that much more expensive to build. Same goes for CUVs, compare the price of a Escape, RAV-4 or CR-V to the car it is based on.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Last month, the average selling price for full-size pickups was $47,393.”

    Median household income in the US is about $59,039.

    That’s almost 10 months’ income spent on a truck. Never in my life have I committed that much of my income to a vehicle. For a brief period I had 2 cars whose total price exceeded 6 month’s income, and it nearly broke me.

    Seems like trucks have become “rich people’s” toys.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Good thing the average household is not the average new car buyer. Not sure why they should be; there are 300 million passenger vehicles on US roads. This is a red herring

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Personally, I’d love another pickup truck, preferably the one in the top photo, but that’s not going to happen.

    For me, a Chevy standard or extended cab, short bed, full size pickup for me, but I have to face facts: Retired and no money for that sort of thing, so my Impala had better last a long, long time!

    Fortunately, it’s still free to dream!

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    I’ll never understand the fascination with pick-up trucks. 99% of them drive around 99% of the time hauling a load of air in the bed. If I find myself actually needing a truck (which really never seems to happen), I’ll rent one from Home Depot for $25/hour. That way I don’t have to drive around all the time in an oversized crappy penalty box of a truck every day.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “crappy penalty box of a truck every day.”

      That’s where you’re wrong.

      “99% of them drive around 99% of the time hauling a load of air in the bed”

      And over 99% of sports car drivers I see in traffic are… just driving along in traffic and not on a track.

      But I get that they like how the car handles and drives and looks even when they’re just commuting to work. Likewise folks driving trucks not only appreciate the utility when they need it, most of them love how their truck drives and looks. Shrugging off potholes that will have those sports car guys wincing and worrying about bending rims.

      Why is this concept particularly difficult to comprehend?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Thank you sir.

        • 0 avatar
          CobraJet

          I have two pickups and I love to drive them. One is a 94 Silverado extended cab and the other is an 09 Silverado 4 dr. They both serve different purposes, and I find a use for one or the other just about every week. I’ve owned a pickup of one sort or another continuously since 1981 and always seem to have a need for them.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The difference is that sports cars are nice to drive, even when you aren’t going fast. Trucks just suck.

        An SUV with a utility trailer has more utility in every possible way. Or a GOLF with a utility trailer for that matter – how many “1/2 ton” trucks actually can carry 1000lbs in the bed these days? My crappy little Harbor Freight utility trailer was rated for 1500lbs and my 90hp diesel Golf towed it like it wasn’t even there. Remodeled a house with that combo. Now doing the same with a hitch equipped GTI, but renting from U-Haul as needed. $14.95 a day. Haven’t actually needed it much – you can fit a LOT in and on a Golf.

        But if you need a 4dr 4×4 jacked up penis extension more power to ya.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        They are penalty boxes. They ride like crap with an empty bed. Many of my friends own trucks, so I can say for sure that they, well, ride like trucks. My buddy just got a new Ram 1500 quad cab, complete with coil springs and it still rides like crap. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      And most people with four doors are just driving around alone most of the time. So, build more coupes?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        No, build more 1 seaters. Because I see people driving alone all the time.

        1 seat, 2 cylinder engine + CVT, top speed 70 mph. If you don’t drive such a car, you have no right to complain about other people driving more than (you think) they need.

  • avatar
    AndyYS

    My brother-in-law has a 4 door F150. Very comfortable and great visibility for the driver. Convenient if you have to haul things. But he never uses it in situations where he’d have to park in a crowded parking lot or on the street. I live in the suburbs and don’t haul things so I can’t see the logic of spending big bucks for one.

  • avatar
    CombiCoupe99

    No small truck in America. Not because they don’t have a market, certainly they’ll take that $13,000 profit over less profit – even it means SCREWING a large percentage of the country who can step into a F150 with 125,000 miles.

    If ANY world manufacturer wants to break into the US market – give us a small truck again. You’ll be the Honda of the 70s and 80s.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      If there’s screwing involved, it’s totally consensual, in fact Americans can’t seem to get enough! But if you stick to the base fullsize trucks, they’re a tremendous value and it’s more like the manufacturers are the ones getting screwed!

      Except their obscene profitability comes strictly from their unsurpassed, completely unheard of volume. Pickups that can be spec’d to nearly no two alike, can’t be cheap to build. But the more widgets you sell, the cheaper they are to produce. We’re talking up to 10’s of millions per generation including fullsize SUvs on shared platforms.

      In case you haven’t noticed, Americans aren’t fans of anything compact, especially compact pickups, except for a brief period when all the planets aligned. It’s tough to convince manufacturers to enter the US market, or come back just to feed a tiny niche segment, likely just to take a loss.

      • 0 avatar
        tomLU86

        Compact trucks WERE big sellers, from the 1970s through the late 1990s.

        Maybe the fuel economy gap narrowed a lot–bigger trucks are more useful.

        The average American adult probably weighs 25-40 lbs more now than in the 70s, they need more room.

        The buy more outsize crap at Sam’s Club and Costco for their outsize house and need more room.

        I agree–offer a credible (whatever that is– fun? fuel-efficient?) compact pick-up, and you’ll have the 2020 equivalent of the 76 Honda Accord.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Because we’re reeling from a gas crisis and the economy is in the tank and inflation is skyrocketing?

          People bought cheap trucks because they were cheap. If you were an 18 year old male in 1989, a Ranger is a whole cooler than a base Escort. But, nobody buys base models anymore. Its all about high content, quiet and plush interior, lots of power and so on. A small, crude, cheap, slow, cramped truck doesn’t fly.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @AXOD – That’s an important point. Econo crapboxes in stripper trim were huge sellers at the peak of the mini truck craze and small pickups were the sporty alternative to the boring base Tercel, Escort, etc where you died a little having to own. Plus you could customize the mini truck to keep it interesting.

            Back then vinyl seats and crank window “strippers” were socially acceptable and I’m sure loans had a maximum of 60 months for the most part, leases were rare, as was zero % financing, but (god forbid!) people actually saved up and paid in cash for a vehicle they could actually afford.

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        Everyone says they want a midsize truck (including me), until they start looking (including me).The fact of the matter is midsize/compact pickups only make sense if you live in a dense area.

        Fuel economy? About the same as full size.
        Price? After incentives, full sizes are about the same.
        Content? Generally better on the full size for similar price due to economics of scale.

        Everyone complains about how expensive the full size gets and how it is ridiculous that you buy ~$70,000 pickups…but the profit margins on those $60k+ pickups are subsidizing the lower end and allowing the dealers and manufacturers to discount the hell out of the truck (if you are paying anywhere near MSRP on a base-mid trim fullsize pickup you are a terrible negotiator). Compact trucks offer no benefit except being smaller. It is hard to design them for good fuel economy without being trash as a pickup. All that stuff that makes a pickup be a good pickup is heavy.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I believe it is/was the fuel economy hit was the reason in the past the small trucks sold well. I have several small trucks, Isuzu pick up, Nissan XE (not a frontier), Fazda B4000. All got 18 mpg, the Nissan was a 2wd regular cab and it got 25 mpg. When I owned them, I really wanted a full size but could not afford the gas bill at the time as a full size got 12-15 mpg and that made a difference to my budget.

      Now you can find a pre owned full size that gets 18 mpg all day long, so why buy a small one?

      I believe that 18 mpg is the sweet spot. 18 mpg and you get ‘decent’ mpg and can live with it.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        “I believe that 18 mpg is the sweet spot. 18 mpg and you get ‘decent’ mpg and can live with it.”

        I believe you’re right. For me anyways, both my ’03 Pilot and ’96 4Runner average right around 18-20mpg depending on conditions/season/tires. It’s not great MPG but with my current commute it doesn’t bother me either.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I have no commute and could not live with that. I want at least 30mpg average, and that is about what I get with everything but my Rover. Which I don’t drive all that much – summers only now. More from the GTI and BMW, a bit less from the Saab.

          I do get why “compact trucks” don’t sell. They aren’t compact enough anymore, they aren’t cheap, and anyone who can afford a new anything can afford a full-size truck.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “could not live with that”

            I assume it’s more of a state of mind thing or simply a preference rather than an actual financial necessity in your case. I get it, when I had my 2012 Civic it was satisfying to crunch the numbers and see a 35+ mpg tank (or one over 40 especially). My own form of that satisfaction these days is driving fully and completely depreciated vehicles. At the moment I have other priorities for what otherwise would be a nice car note.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Of course. I can afford to drive whatever I damned well please. But inefficiency does not please me unless there is a really good reason for it. Speed is not enough of a reason. I put up with the Rover because nothing else that can do what it does is much better.

            My problem, albiet a very first world one, is that I can afford any reasonable new car I care to buy – let’s say up to $100K (not that I would ever spend that much). But there is just about nothing that I care to buy. I don’t have garage space in FL for toys yet. But I will, and I am sure there will be some interesting older additions to the fleet.

            I like fully depreciated vehicles too. I like it even better when I am the one to do ALL the depreciating. But it isn’t a hard requirement either way.

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