Was 2019 a boom for pickup trucks? Yes, but not a record
There has been a lot of talk about the growth of pickup truck sales in the US. In reality, truck sales still haven’t quite hit the volume in the US they reached in 2005. 2005 was a good year, but then truck sales plummeted in 2008 and 2009, and have been on the rebound every year since.
Let’s look at the three segments of the pickup truck market (full size, midsize, and lifestyle) over the last 15 years (2005-2019). All sales figures mentioned are for pickup truck sales in the United States.
From 2015 to 2019, there was a lot of turmoil in the lifestyle segment. Only the Honda Ridgeline lasted the entire time. Domestic entries, including the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Lincoln Mark LT, Chevrolet SSR and Avalanche, Cadillac Escalade EXT, and Hummer H3T never caught on. Neither did the Subaru Baja. This market peaked at around 50,000 sales, and has dropped to just over 33,000 (all of which were Honda Ridgelines) in 2019. Ford did not provide separate sales figures for the Explorer Sport Trac, so it isn’t included in the chart below, but it was also available up to 2010, which makes the current low levels even more interesting. The SSR wasn’t really a truck as much as a sports car on a pickup frame, but it had a basic El Camino form, so it’s in the class. Leaving it out doesn’t really change the sales figures.
Full Size Trucks
Full size trucks are the sales volume leaders in the United States and Canada. Full size truck volume was 2.45 million in 2005—76% of all pickup sales; in 2019, Ford sold 2.48 million, accounting for 79.7% of pickup sales. While Ford’s sales increased slightly, they also gained in market share, mostly to GM’s detriment.
Domestic brands were 91% of the 2015 full size pickup sales—over 94% of the 2019 sales.
So who were the big winners in the full size truck market?
The Ford F series has held steady with 2019 volume of 896k, roughly equal to 2005. So did GMC Sierra at 232k.
Ram trucks (Dodge Ram in the early years) were the big winner, up from 400k in 2005 to 633k in 2019.
The big losers were the Chevrolet Silverado (from 706k to 576k) and Nissan Titan (from 87k to 31k). The Toyota Tundra fared a little better, but fell from 172k to 111k, largely because it was never really updated over all those years (Toyota enthusiast site Toyoland has a single page covering the 2007 through 2020 Tundras, and notes that only one of the three engines was updated in that time).
Compact and Midsize Trucks
Like the lifestyle segment, there has been a lot of turmoil in the compact and midsize pickup segment. Since 2005 the Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, Mitsubishi Raider, Mazda B series, Isuzu I series, and Suzuki Equator all left the US market; these were all compact pickups, other than the Dakota/Raider. In 2019, the Ford Ranger returned and Jeep finally (re)entered the pickup market with the Gladiator.
Toyota Tacoma is the dominate force in this market. Tacoma grew from 169k sales in 2005 to 249k sales in 2019. Along with the Nissan Frontier at 72k units, the Japanese brands still account for 53% of the midsize market. Tacoma was the only midsize truck offered in the US every year during the 2005-2019 period; Toyota has had a version of the truck for sale in the United States since 1964, when it was dubbed the Scout.
General Motors offers two entries in this segment, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Neither GM pickup was offered in model-year 2013, as they changed from their first to second generation. However, the fact the Colorado (128k sales) and Canyon (33k sales) in were available during most of the time period helped these trucks show 2019 sales similar to 2005 sales volume.
Ford sold 121k Rangers in 2005 and almost 84k in 2019, though 2019 was not a full sales year for Ranger. Can Ranger get back its 2005 sales level? Ranger sold over 300k per year in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the small truck market was at its peak. Ranger was among the ten best selling vehicles in the US many of those years. (The current Ranger is a midsize, while the original was compact. The Tacoma also started out as a compact, and Tacoma still calls it that.)
Jeep sold 40k Gladiators in 2019, though it was limited to little more than the last half of the year. The best year for the Jeep Comanche was 43,718 in 1988 so Gladiator is already in line with that.
So where do we see growth?
The lifestyle pickup segment has flatlined at low volume. There is little incentive for anyone to join the Honda Ridgeline in this segment.
In the full size arena, growth has been in the single digits since 2012. The chance for growth here appears to be conquest sales, which Ram has been excelling at. Still, full size trucks are 80% of the total pickup truck market, and the American brands are at a strong advantage—as Toyota found out when its original Tundra failed to come anywhere close to sales estimates.
The strongest growth potential is in the midsize segment, which has been averaging 20% growth for the last five years. With that kind of growth, there is room for all the existing midsize trucks and maybe another entry like a new Dakota, since Jeep has positioned Gladiator at a premium price. The growth in this segment has allowed Toyota and Nissan to continue selling entries that were at best outdated (Toyota finally updated the Tacoma for 2020). The domestic brands, especially Ford and Jeep, have growth potential. GM really needs a refreshed Colorado/Canyon in this segment.
And then there is the unknown effect of electric trucks discussed in a previous article:
Mark has been a technical writer for many years, working for automotive suppliers. He has always been an avid reader of magazines and websites dedicated to the domestic auto industry, and spent a lot of time analyzing sales trends in changing automotive markets. Mark’s fascination with the automotive industry began by reading yearbooks as a young child that highlighted the yearly changes cars used to receive every fall. From that, he developed a love of model car building.
The cars of his childhood were mainly large Ford and Chevrolet sedans. Some of his previous restoration projects include a 1967 Plymouth Valiant, a 1980 Plymouth Volare Road Runner, and a 1989 Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible.
You can reach Mark at +1.516-531-4021.