Why fewer people are buying pickup trucks

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

I read an article in Forbes recently titled the death of the pickup truck claiming mostly that declining truck sales have been attributed to high fuel prices and an overall change in buyer’s attitudes about needing a truck.  While I believe this is partially true, I think there are other reasons why fewer people have been turning down that new truck purchase. I also don’t believe the truck is dead or even dying for that matter, evolving maybe, but remember that the first cars ever made were trucks or used as such.

Yes, it’s true that trucks use more fuel, and when the price of gas in California hit more than $4 a gallon, spending more than $100 to fill the tank was definitely a good reason to not buy a truck, but there are other reasons as well. I think one of the bigger reasons buyers are looking at cheaper crossover vehicles and compact SUVs, which are also more fuel efficient, is the fact that trucks now have too many options that make them some of the most expensive vehicles on the market, and the real question is why? Traditionally, pickup trucks never had a lot of options, so for the buyer, they were a cheaper alternative to big SUVs that were more expensive. All the smart buyer had to do was add a carpet kit and a camper shell to a cheap truck and bam, you had a much cheaper SUV. I still remember when a new truck didn’t have leather interior, or power windows and seats, heated AND cooled seats, or backup cameras and in-dash GPS navigation or in some cases they didn’t even come with a rear bumper!

I know it seems ridiculous now to get a truck without even a rear bumper, but pickup trucks were never fancy because they didn’t need to be. You hauled your stuff in the bed, got from point A to B and that was all you needed to do with them. If you had to tow something, you got a heavier duty model, the more weight you needed to tow, the tougher the truck you got. And they drove like a truck-meaning, you could easily tell the difference when you rode in a truck compared to how the ride feels in a car. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two now. In short, truck manufacturers have catered their line of pickups to satisfy people that drive cars, and that has made them expensive, and frustrating for the traditional truck owner that doesn’t want or need a fancy pickup. It’s not uncommon to see trucks that cost $60K or more, that is if you want one that will function like a true truck and not just a cheap car with an open bed that still gets lousy gas mileage. So now they aren’t as attractive to traditional car owners because they’re just as expensive or more than SUVs, not only in base price, but for fuel economy as well.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, the Ford F-series trucks, which are the most popular trucks(and vehicle) on the road, will cost you at least $20K for a base model F150, will get about 17 mpg, and to be quite honest, is not nearly as tough a truck as a base model F150 used to be. The V-6 engine won’t handle real heavy loads(option-less F150s in the early to mid 90’s generally came with V-8s) or tow very much, and of course it will still get lousy gas mileage, and because it’s the base model, it won’t have those fancy features that have been added over the years to attract the non-traditional truck owners. So what you have is basically a truck that isn’t a very good ‘truck’, making them less attractive to any buyer that isn’t a local municipality, leaving only the more optioned ‘better’ trucks that are now too expensive for anybody. A Ford F-250, the baseline heavier duty model that is more like a ‘truck’ as we know them to be, will cost you close to $50K, and can get way more pricey depending on how many bells and whistles you want to add to it. Back in the day-I’m talking about 15 years ago-a base model F150 was tougher, could handle heavier loads, and cost about $14K-gas mileage was still lousy, but gas was also much cheaper then. Even the heavier duty F250/350 models were based on the same body as the F150, unlike today’s models that are entirely different, and of course more expensive.

The same scenario is also true for most of the smaller pickup trucks, and although I believe that the truck will never really die, in this economy, car manufacturers need to shift gears and stick to a tried and true philosophy that less is more.  However, some contractors that drive their pickups all day long tend to like a more comfortable ride and don’t mind paying a little more for a fancy pickup, which is one of the saving graces for truck manufacturers, but narrows down the market of potential buyers.

I think that if the auto manufacturers want to sell more trucks, they should beef up the drive train of their base model pickups, and let the buyers add whatever after-market accessories they want, which is cheaper to do than buying one that is already equipped with features they don’t need. Keep it simple, we are living in a time that calls for ‘leaner’ standards, mostly to save money, but will the car-makers sacrifice that extra revenue for the all the added features they like to include? They should if it means they will sell less volume. Remember that Henry Ford made a killing in the car market by producing something cheap and affordable (model-T’s came in one color, black, to reduce costs). Aside from the Volkswagen Beetle, the Ford Model-T was the most produced car ever, of course it should be no coincidence that the ‘Bug’ was a simple, affordable car as well.




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