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Looking at Large Pickups

Domestic manufacturers dominate a growing pickup market but keep a concerned eye on the rearview mirror.

Large pickups, those cash cows for Detroit and market-share and PR weapons for Toyota and Nissan, are middle-America status symbols, an irritant to the excessively environmentally minded and a significant part of the industry that pays our collective wages.

Over the years the consumers’ romance with large pickups created a rising tide of acceptance that surged well into the first quarter of 2004, pushing the segment up to 14.1 percent of the combined car/truck industry, with unit sales up 13 percent from the 2003 quarter.

But, as in many romances, an outside force, in this case the price of gasoline, has caught the wayward eye of some potential buyers. Not unexpectedly, the gas-price hullabaloo affected the ongoing surge, bringing the second quarter in quite flat throughout the quarter and down to 13.8 percent of industry, but with no indication of a June falloff.

As for the newer entries, Tundra and Titan, they are a looming presence and a PR gift for their manufacturers as many business and auto writers appear to be in a state of mathematical incomprehension and these writers will be having conniptions brought on by altered market shares and their own inability to understand that the segment has only 100 percent. Many writers do not understand that loosing market share to a new entry is a mathematical reality, not a mark of stupidity, particularly in the large pickup segment where two of the domestics are equal to the transplants and one brand is superior. Regardless, shares of the large pickup segment will be altered and fragmented and some analytically-challenged writers will therefore savage “Detroit.”

As for the present, General Motors, going into 2004 with the largest share, has given up share throughout the first half. Ford, selling newer sheet metal and an enhanced product is enjoying good road tests and has gained a tad share during the half and brought in a respectable June. Dodge had given up share in the second half of 2003 but held steady at that lower level throughout the first half of 2004 and experienced a decent June. Toyota has held steady, traversing the half year and as a juvenile in the large pickup segment is waiting for its Texas plant to provide units for a true test of the market. Titan, early on a media darling, described by one overwrought scribe as very butch” and a “kick in the groin to Detroit” not exactly a hot item, but will no doubt ultimately be pushed and pulled into long-term respectability.

For the short term, we remain under gasprice pressures at the time of this writing, but the normal July vacation downtimes will have taken a bit of pressure off the production numbers and perhaps even the inventories, but will do little for July and August sales. As for the long term, there is only 100 percent. Toyota and Nissan, selling acceptable but certainly not exceptional large pickups, will simply by existing, gain segment share, a gain that will be misinterpreted and misrepresented by many writers and analysts. It will, however, be hard work for the transplanters as the Detroiters have, unlike in cars and SUVs, a much broader product base than do the transplanters.

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