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Cars, Trucks and Multies

If it looks like a truck and drives like a truck, it might still be a car.

Our federal regulators, in their infinite wisdom, have declared that for fuel economy purposes, there are only two types of motor vehicles, cars and trucks, totally ignoring the reality that the market is a bit more complex. This bit of federal wisdom has lead to the conclusion, used by many, myself included, that trucks are a strong growth market and now outsell cars at roughly a ratio of 55 trucks to 45 cars. As is usual, there is more to the story. So, to expand the horizon a bit, but to keep the details at a minimum while adding up to the usual 100 percent, three types of vehicles, cars, working trucks and multi-use (hereafter called multies) are charted.


The reality is that the share of industry held by vehicles that can reasonably be considered, at least in design purpose and construction as being capable of functioning as a working truck, have been stagnant for years. Depending on how nit-picking one wants to be, there are at least 20 readily recognizable vehicle segments and at least 50 segments can easily be found by grouping distinctive product and buyer similarities. But, when it comes to what can, at even relatively loose standards, be considered useful as a working truck, there are only compact and full-size commercial vans, small and large pickups and the mediums and heavies.


As shown in the data, vehicles that are at least usable as working trucks have, for many years, followed a very slight downward share of total industry sales, leaving a generally declining car share and an ascending line of the various oddities that make up the mushrooming, confusing and crowded multi-use group, or multies.


The oddities of what is or isn’t a truck, at least those designated solely to circumvent the prized federal fuel economy classification, are further complicated by the way the manufacturers report sales and production. These oddities and contradictions are enough to cause the most mild mannered market analyst to growl and grumble. Examples include the PT Cruiser four-door, sold as a truck, while the PT Cruiser convertible is a car. Pontiac’s Vibe and Toyota’s Matrix, clones of each other and of the PT, are cars in the eyes of the feds. Pontiac reports the Vibe as a car, Toyota reports Matrix production, but not sales, wrapping the Matrix sales in to bolster sagging Corolla car numbers.


Another mind twister compares the Ford Explorer Sport Track, built on a truck-like frame, but sold as a sport utility, not as a pickup truck, and the Honda Ridgeline, constructed on a passenger-type unitized body and sold as a pickup truck, not as a sport utility. Both serve the same function and both are considered as trucks within the two-segment federal fuel-economy classification. These bits of nomenclature nonsense are the unhappy blending of politics and marketing.


Many cars, including Vibe and Matrix, appear to be station wagons, as are the Magnum and Forester “crossovers”. But, wagons are old thinking, crossovers and now even cars are new thinking, so we must ignore the wagon definition. As can be expected, a number-cruncher’s convention would be rife with arguments about what is what, and more importantly, who is correct in their segment groupings. After all the discussions and no matter how fine the definitions and segmentations are pared, the fact remains that work-usable trucks are a stable, not a growth, market. Of the 21.7 percent share of the Jan. – Feb. 2005 industry held by these trucks, 1.9 percent came from commercial-use vans, 17.3 percent from pickups and the remaining 2.5 percent from mediums and heavies, percentages that in total and detail have been quite stable for many years.


The reality is that workable trucks make up a moderate and stagnant share of the total automotive market. The real fight is between the cars and multies, with cars beginning to show a bit more fight. Trucks are not a contender for the crown.



 1999 2000 20012002 2003 2004Jan-Feb 2005
Car 50.0%  49.7% 48.2%47.3% 44.9% 43.4% 44.5% 
Multi  26.3 27.5 30.0 32.033.3 34.0  33.8
Truck23.7 22.8 21.8 20.721.822.6 21.7














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