By on May 11, 2020

gm

The Detroit Three has something of a problem. Sales of their cash-cow, bread-and-butter full-size pickups hardly waned during the extended pandemic lockdown, and are, as of a week ago, selling just as they had before anyone heard of the coronavirus. And yet the plants tasked with building them still aren’t online.

Automakers that just months ago were concerned with higher-than-average inventory levels now have the opposite problem.

As reported last week, Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler will commence production on a temporarily limited basis on May 18th. Getting the UAW’s approval re: worker health protocol and a green light from the state of Michigan was necessary in order to ensure parts flow (manufacturing begins May 11th) and smooth assembly sailing once vehicle production resumes.

The Detroit Three now await the starting gun and eventual ramp-up. However, customers have already returned to their truck-buying ways — not they ever entirely abandoned them. Even during the depths of the lockdown in late March and early April, sales of full-size pickups in the U.S. never flagged more than 25 percent below expectations, according to J.D. Power data. In the week ending May 3rd, that volume deficit was all but gone. Sales of the big boys wad down only 1 percent below the firm’s pre-virus forecasts.

In an investor chat last week, FCA CEO Mike Manley commented that he “can’t remember when” the automaker had such low inventory levels, CNBC reports. When production resumes, focus will be on what sells — regardless of automaker.

“I’m pretty sure you’re going to see another relatively strong month with trucks, being there are certainly configurations that we’ll be running short,” Manley said, confirming that his company’s supply of certain Rams is drying up. Ram, you’ll recall, just emerged from a boffo sales year.

Talking to analysts last week, GM’s chief financial officer, GM CFO Dhivya Suryadevara said the automaker is currently seeing low truck inventory. Pickup production will be top of mind when plants come back online, she said, adding that the company is keeping a “close eye on dealer inventory” — especially in regions that side-stepped much of the COVID carnage.

Count Dallas, Texas among those regions. That market consistently performed at or near the top of all U.S. cities in terms of sales stability over the past couple of months, never flagging by more than a modest amount. In comparison, Detroit and New York City saw their sales fall to essentially zero. Not anymore, of course.

Ford sells more full-sizers than anyone, so for its sake, hopefully the restart of its F-150 and Super Duty lines will bolster stock ahead of any shortages on the dealer side. That said, the Blue Oval plans to enter production with a limited workforce in tow. Every plant that previously operated on more than one shift will drop a shift in the near term.

[Image: General Motors]

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23 Comments on “Pickups: You Want ’em, You’re Buying ’em, but America Now Needs to Build ’em...”


  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Well, “we’re” not buying ’em. At least I’m not. I just bought a new car and a pick up didn’t even cross my mind. But yes, someone is, and that’s good. Anything that helps the economy get back on its feet is good by me! Buy ’em up ‘Murica!

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    You might not find the exact one you’re looking for, color, trim, etc, but Big 3 dealers usually stock (hoard) a 90 day supply of fullsize pickups, thanks to so many combinations of what sells the most.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “..thanks to so many combinations of what sells the most.”

      That may be the case now. But pre covid, stock was more determined by “what nets the highest profit.” Which, for a truck, often ended up making it less “truckworthy”, at any price, than less tarted up ones would have been.

      • 0 avatar
        teddyc73

        @ stuki No, what sells has always been the case.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        I’m curious how the leather seats and better stereo in my King Ranch F350 make it “less truckworthy” than your preferred spec, unless you’re counting the <5% reduction in payload capacity over a no option model.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Because leather seats suck when you’re all wet, salty and/or muddy, compared to “HD Vinyl” or whatever they call it these days. Better stereos are mainly better at failing, needing service and at aging to obsolescence long before a phone cradle does.

          In addition, aside from duallies, “upspec” also tend to mean fragile pimp rims and fragile tires. Along with “central locking” tailgates that’s just waiting to fail. Personally, I also prefer one big knob from low to high temprature, another one for fan speed and a third one for where to direct air; over any “climate control”, thermostat driven gizmo.

          HD trucks do tend to remain truckier even in higher trims than half tons, though. And generally come with better headlamps than their stripper versions.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            -Leather is just as easy to clean as vinyl, and much easier than the cloth that comes in most lower trim trucks.

            -I’ve never had a stereo fail in any vehicle, and even if this one does, it’s the standard Sync 3 system used in every Ford vehicle and probably cheaper than the poverty spec radio used only in XL work trucks and base Ecosports.

            -I have 70-series tires, but I suppose since they are 18″ rims that makes them fragile and pimpin compared to the 17″ that come on the base truck?

            -For the rest of that stuff, if it fails, great. Now I have a base truck after all where everything is manual. For the other 99% of the time that it all works, I enjoy the better stuff. Is there unneeded fluff? Yeah of course. But the truck bones are the same no matter what’s layered on top. And it’s a lot more comfortable to do the work I need done this way.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            “Leather is just as easy to clean as vinyl, and much easier than the cloth that comes in most lower trim trucks.”

            I absolutely refuse to own another PU with cloth seats. It’s leather or nothing for me because when it gets dirty you can actually clean it, unlike cloth.

            No cranky up windows or $hitty stereo systems either. When I left the Black Hills SD, trying to beat a blizzard on my way back to Minnesota after a snowmobile trip I spent 16 hours behind the wheel of my GMC 2500 in SLT trim. Towing an enclosed trailer on some of the worst winter roads I’ve ever driven in my life. F$%k low end stripper PU trucks. You can bet I was glad that truck had heated leather power bucket seats, console, Bose sound system and other amenities that made it comfortable to sit in and drive all through the night and well into the next day. I had that truck for 13 years/180K miles & never had to fix any of the “luxury” stuff on it. Even if I did, it still would have been worth it!

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Leather may be easy to clean (I wouldn’t know, as I don’t clean, and with vinyl, you don’t have to…..); but if you’ve been surfing and plonk down in your seats with wet trunks, then rush home to shower, change and put on your finest Armani to go to a meeting; leather seats, like cloth ones, will still be soaking wet when you get back into your truck. Which doesn’t do your Armani any favors.

            It’s much the same story skiing, bushing, dirtbiking in mud, or even just being sweaty from playing sports or excercising. If you’re wet, your seats get wet. Cloth and leather takes forever to dry, as they soak up the wetness. Vinyl don’t. (Actually thin vinyl will eventually crack and join club soakup. Hence HD Vinyl…. :) )

            As for the rest of the stuff, in general higher trim means more “integrated” stuff. I always prefer my stuff to not be integrated, so it’s all independent. At least in a truck. In a sedan, I like leather, integrated systems, central locking etc., etc. Just not so much in a truck, where if things fail, they’re likely to do so in a long shut down goldmine in The Yukon, 100 miles from cell service. Integrated stuff can also make upfits trickier. More electric stuff means more possible places for a battery draining leak etc., etc.

  • avatar

    Here in CT used cars seem to be starting to flow thru dealers again thanks to tax returns and stimulus hitting at the same time. New cars still seem really slow thou. Pickup trucks aren’t top sellers here but most of the dealers still seem to have normal amounts on the lot. I’m guessing some of those will get shipped out in coming weeks.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    So-I guess it’s safe to assume that these buyers never stopped receiving a paycheck during this whole COVID thing.

    So-the average income (I read this somewhere-maybe here) is $80,000.00 for a pickup truck buyer. So that group of households was never really affected by COVID-apparently.

    I see a lot of Super Dutys and GM 3500s around here-really nice ones BTW.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      It’s probably an over generalization to say that. Plenty of high end pick up buyers are small business owners. I’m sure, for example, successful restaurant owners aren’t doing cartwheels down to the Chevy dealer for new loaded $70k 2500HD High Countries.

      But, on the whole, the market for these very expensive fuelish vehicles was not as hard hit by the shutdown as, say, the demographics who were buying Mitsubishi Mirages and Nissan Sentras, for example.

      The professional classes have done very well in America over the last two decades and, in addition to much higher incomes, also have big 401ks and other savings and assets, while the average masses in the service and gig economies do not.

    • 0 avatar

      In most of the country construction is still on. Defense manufacturing is still up and running. Insurance companies and banks are working from home. Lot’s of buyers for pickups are not all that hard hit.
      If you work in a restaurant, retail, Tourism, hotels or travel well then you have an issue. And that is a surprisingly large part of our economy but the venn diagram for many of those jobs and NEW pickup buyers does not have a huge overlap.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Good. The purchase of just one vehicle helps so many people. We don’t need to be locked in our homes, we need to be working and living and consuming and getting this country and economy back to where the President had us two months ago.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, as Bark would point out, consumers aren’t the ones buying these – dealers are. And because manufacturers make more on these, it makes sense why so many are being built.

    But I’m willing to stand by what I predicted some time ago – I think the sedan/small car market is poised for something of a comeback, particularly if the economy doesn’t recover quickly. And they won’t be bought by the stereotypical “guy with a 400 FICO and no money” – they’ll be bought by more fiscally cautious folks who would rather spend $30,000 on a practical purchase than $50,000 on a fashion statement, which is what trucks are for most folks.

    Time will tell, I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      RSF

      FreedMike- I’m not really sure trucks can be considered a fashion statement. I think they are the most practical vehicle on the road. I can very comfortably commute, load up the family and take a trip, haul stuff, pull the camper, go off road, or even drive it to a high end restaurant for dinner. If things get tight I’d rather just keep the truck I have than buy a sedan or small car.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I think I was talking about being financially practical – modern trucks are practical vehicles. But unless you need to tow something major, plenty of other vehicles can do everything a truck can, for less money. Modern sedans are so good that if you were able to transport one back in time 30 years, it’d be science fiction.

        I think most trucks are truly bought as fashion statements. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if things get economically dicey, someone in the market for a new vehicle might just take a second look at that $25,000 sedan versus a $50,000 truck that he doesn’t really need.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I agree the bro/cool dude in my neck of the woods wouldn’t drive anything other then a finely appointed pick-up. Pick-ups are to wealthy rural guys are what BMWs are to wealthy urban guys

        • 0 avatar
          RSF

          FreedMike as a finance guy I understand your point about being financially practical! But realistically I think things would have to get really bad for a long time to get people out of trucks and back into cars.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Rsf: but, isn’t that something better done with a van or mini-van? In some cases, a pickup isn’t a fashion statement. For many, it is a fashion accessory especially when the work it’s used for could be done better with a van.

        • 0 avatar
          RSF

          mcs- a van wouldn’t work for me or for most other people I’m around. Vans definitely work for some people, but they still aren’t as comfortable or useful as a full sized truck. I think if things get rough in the economy people that already have a truck will keep it and not buy a car. It’s really hard to go back once you’ve had truck.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Vans are great people movers but they aren’t as good at hauling weight or dirty things and don’t tow as well.

          My biggest personal problem with trucks is that they are all so tall. If they were available with Subaru Outback height then I’d have more interest.

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