Long-term sales data courtesy of AutoPacific
We knew it wasn't going to be pretty. The numbers are in for 2008 U.S. auto sales, and pickup trucks were hit particularly hard, reaching their lowest sales levels in more than a decade. The Wall Street Journal says U.S. auto sales declined 18 percent in 2008, to 13.24 million vehicles —the lowest total since 1992. Of those, 2 million were pickups, sales of which fell 26.5 percent from 2007's 2.73 million.
High fuel prices chased casual truck buyers out of big pickups in the first half of the year, and the shattered housing and credit markets stopped core-truck buyers from shopping for new trucks to replace their old ones.
Despite the biggest sales drop in decades, however, some things haven't changed. The Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado continued to occupy the top two sales positions among all cars and trucks -- the same spots they were in last year -- beating the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Toyota Corolla, which rounded out the top five. The Dodge Ram finished eighth.
One unprecedented shift last year: For the first time, Chrysler gave up the No. 3 spot, behind GM and Ford, to Toyota for overall truck sales (compact/midsize and full-size), marking the first time an import manufacturer has occupied this position.
Here are the details.
Winners: Chevrolet, Ford, GMC
Losers: Dodge, Nissan, Toyota
Among full-size pickups, total light- and heavy-duty sales in 2008 were 1.61 million units, down 27.1 percent from 2007's 2.21 million full-size trucks sold and the 2004 peak of 2.56 million. This figure excludes the Hummer H2 SUT, which GM doesn’t break out from total H2 sales.
GM sold 673,334 full-size pickups in 2008, which is 24.4 percent fewer than last year. That number includes 633,609 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra GMT900 traditional full-size trucks, 39,712 Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT GMT940 monobody trucks, and 13 discontinued Chevy SSR roadsters (which arguably was a midsize truck, but its impact in either category is marginal).
GM's lower sales volume masks relatively good news: a 1.5 percent gain in full-size-truck market share. GM was up to 41.8 percent of that market in 2008, its greatest share since 2002. That's a remarkable achievement in a year that saw the debut of the new 2009 Ford F-150 and 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 light-duty pickups.
The Ford F-Series finished 2008 as the best-selling vehicle in the country for the 32nd year in a row, with sales of 515,513 units. Combined with the discontinued Lincoln Mark LT, Ford sold 520,144 full-size pickups, or 32.3 percent of the segment.
Like GM, Ford also increased its share of the full-size truck segment, improving 0.7 percent over 2007. Despite that improvement, Ford's total light- and heavy-duty sales volume declined by 178,827 units, or 25.6 percent.
Chrysler was the only domestic truck maker to see both sales volume and market share decrease last year. The new light-duty Dodge Ram wasn't able to dent a 31.4 percent sales slide for the company, from 358,295 to 245,840 units. Market share shrunk by almost a full percentage point, to 15.26 percent -- the Ram's lowest slice since 2001.
Toyota had big plans for the current Tundra. It was expected to sell 200,000 units a year or more when it went on sale in 2007. Today, that target is a faded memory. The Tundra missed its sales goal by more than 60,000 units in 2008, falling 30.2 percent from 2007's numbers. In fact, the latest Tundra outsold the previous generation’s peak sales, in 2005, by just 10,720 trucks. Toyota’s year-over-year full-size market share shrunk by .37 percent, to 8.52 percent. We wonder how many 2008 Tundra shoppers were casual versus core truck buyers.
Toyota can take consolation, though, that it's not Nissan. The Nissan Titan -- the oldest half-ton pickup on the market in its current design -- saw sales fall by almost 50 percent. The Titan also gave up almost a full point of market share, going from 2.98 percent of the full-size market to 2.11 percent.
Losers: Dodge, Nissan, Mitsubishi
Compact and midsize truck sales in 2008 totaled 392,674 units, which was 24 percent fewer than the previous year, continuing a steady, decade-long decline. Many truck buyers have found small trucks less appealing than full-size pickups because of the narrow pricing differences between the two segments after incentives. On top of that, the more sophisticated V-8 powertrains in big trucks rival traditional compact-pickup V-6 engines for fuel economy.
The Toyota Tacoma fared best. It gained more than three points market share in the segment to end at 36.8 percent, the largest share of any pickup in either the full-size or compact/midsize segments. The Tacoma’s sales slipped only 16.5 percent from 2007's levels. Likely a big reason for that was owner loyalty to Toyota's long-time small truck and its outstanding reputation for reliability.
The ancient Ford Ranger, which outsold the Tacoma by a 2-to-1 ratio before the turn of the century, also picked up share, to 16.8 percent, selling 65,872 units. High fuel prices pushed truck buyers to the Ranger's frugal four-cylinder engine and best-in-class gas mileage. Ranger sales were also supported by Ford's use of targeted incentives in regions where the Ranger has sold best. Explorer Sport Trac sales are not included because, like GM and the Hummer H2/H2 SUT, Ford doesn't break out Sport Trac sales from the Explorer SUV.
GM's midsize twins, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, saw market share fall by nearly a point, and total sales fell by 28.2 percent, to 69,320 units.
Honda had a relatively good showing with the Ridgeline unibody SUT. Ridgeline sales were off only 20.8 percent, and the Ridgeline took over the No. 10 position from the Nissan Titan on the list of best-selling pickups in the U.S. The Ridgeline probably could have done even better if its V-6 fuel economy numbers were better than 15/20 mpg city/highway.
Not only did Nissan lose ground in full-size pickups, the Frontier midsize pickup lost a full point of market share. We're not sure why, as the Frontier offers a stronger V-6 than the Tacoma, and both trucks were thoroughly updated for 2005. The Frontier is also based on the Titan's strong F-alpha chassis, which is arguably a tougher platform than what underpins the Tacoma. The Frontier should have picked up market share in 2008.
The Dodge Dakota, which was refreshed for 2008, had a very tough time. Dakota sales fell 48.6 percent, to 26,044 units, and it gave up more than 3 points share in the segment.
Suffering alongside the Dakota was its platform twin, the Mitsubishi Raider. The never-accepted Raider saw sales fall 64.9 percent from a year earlier, finishing the year with approximately 2,900 trucks sold, according to our estimates (Mitsubishi hasn’t yet released a final total).
It's going to take years to recover from the steep cliff truck sales drove off in 2008, but there are some positive trends in the year-end sales data: Truck buyers continue to purchase full-size pickup trucks to meet their needs because they can't be replaced by other vehicles; freshened products with long-standing, reliable reputations will continue to sell; and never underestimate the power of incentives to get trucks buyers into both showrooms and new pickups.