New report shows pickup truck sales outpaced passenger cars in the US in April—and the trend could continue.
It’s finally happened: according to a report from Bloomberg, America’s ongoing love affair with trucks has pushed them past the entire passenger car segment on the sales charts. Citing market research from Autodata Corp, the report shows Americans bought 186,400 pickups last month, versus just 169,200 cars. It’s the first time this has happened, though given the unique market circumstances the industry finds itself in, it’s unlikely to be the last.
Truck sales have been trending upward for the last decade, since the 2008/2009 recession. Meanwhile passenger cars enjoyed a brief resurgence at that same point, peaking in mid-2014 before starting a drastic slide downward. As recently as May 2015 cars were outselling trucks by half a million units per month, or at a ratio of over 3-to-1.
It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in all of this. Even though most states didn’t issue stay-at-home orders until mid-March, it had a strong impact on first-quarter sales for nearly all manufacturers.
Bloomberg highlights other reasons for the trucks maintaining more of their respective sales figures than cars too. Detroit Big Three (General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford) deliveries focus on middle America more so than the coastal states. It was these outer states that introduced shutdowns earlier, and in cases like California, with more aggressive distancing measures. Driving in urban settings also favors smaller cars.
Bloomberg also reports that zero-percent financing played a significant role, stretching savings on trucks out across up to 84 months.
Another reason: cheap gas. Buyers are likely less concerned with things like fuel efficiency right now, and more about the sheer amount of vehicle they’re getting for a low price—even though modern truck prices can swell to luxury car levels. That trucks carry higher profit margins than cars is the silver lining for domestic manufacturers, all of which have stopped or significantly limited production for the last two months.
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Ford first announced it was ending most US car sales back in April 2018. The Blue Oval phased out all but the iconic Mustang, and reversed course on a decision to import the crossover-clad Focus Active. A few months later, General Motors joined the bandwagon, putting the Chevrolet Volt, Cruze, Impala, Cadillac XTS, and Buick LaCrosse all out to pasture. Shortly after it announced the Buick Regal would disappear too—a remnant GM’s relationship with Opel, now owned by Peugeot—which would turn the brand into an all-SUV marque.
With automakers continuing to favor SUVs and crossovers in their lineups, and the inevitable cash-strapped world they’ll find themselves in as the global pandemic continues, we don’t expect a sudden recovery for the venerable passenger car. At least it’s far from suffering the same fate as the manual transmission, which accounted for just a single percent of new car sales last year in the US.