Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Truckageddon IV: The Truckageddoning!

by Tom Bozzo

Looking at the U.S. auto sales figures for November, out today, the general picture is that things could be a lot worse. While the Detroit Three's sales look to be down a few percent percent over 2006 after next month's figures are in, that has to be put in the perspective of constant fire sales borrowing retail volume from the future, the industry's efforts to avoid stuffing unlovable cars into rental fleets, and the still-dire need to realign product assortments for a world of expensive oil.

While the month wasn't bad overall, down 1.6% year-over-year, it was a bad month for big trucks almost across the board. The behemoth end of the market has been up and down a bit with fuel prices and new-model introductions, but some clearer trends do seem to be shaping up. Sales of GM's full-size SUVs (ex Hummer) are down about 25 percent, or roughly 100,000 units annually, in 2006-2007 from the 2001-2004 plateau. GM's "midsize" truck-based offerings are down more than half, or the better part of a quarter-million units. Ford's truck-based SUVs are likewise down some 150,000 units from the peak. To the extent that headline truck sales numbers aren't terrible, it's because the reported figures include the array of tall "crossover" wagons that are "trucks" for U.S. regulatory purposes only.

Headline car sales, meanwhile, look worse thanks (in addition to the crossover classification game) to the effects of axing some car models that were sold mainly to rental fleets — notably the old Ford Taurus, which singlehandedly accounts for two-thirds of Ford's 2007 car sales decrease to date. OTOH, it follows directly that the Detroit Three were (and still are) more exposed to the truck market than it seemed. So while it's sensible for them to have "surrendered and declared victory" over fuel economy standards, they'll have their work cut out for them as trucks become even more car-like and cars become more European car-like.

Update: Prof. Hamilton has mostly concurring analysis and graphs here.


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