Full-size Trucks Are Making Big Profits

Fullsize pickups 3
Some of the most profitable vehicles made over the past 20 years of production (from 1990 to 2011) were pickup trucks, with a few pricey European sedans and ubiquitous entry-level nameplates filling out the top 12, according to a recent study by London-based Bernstein Research. 

To many this isn't big news, or really anything outside the boundaries of common sense, especially when you consider the criteria. Max Warburton, the study's lead researcher, identified three key characteristics to calculate the top "cash cows" over the past 20 years. As you might expect given their longevity and popularity, the top three spots are full-size pickup trucks.

First, Warburton considered how competitive a vehicle's pricing; second, he factored in sales volume; and third, he considered the vehicle's lifecycle. In order of overall profits, Ford's F-Series came in first, GM's full-size pickups second and the Dodge Ram (and the last two years of Ram Truck) was third. Over the past 20 years, Ford, GM, and Dodge have pulled down more than $110 billion in pretax profits with these full-size players.

Some in the media argue that the attention these automakers have given to their fullsize pickup trucks have made the companies slow to invest in new technologies or to explore better, more advanced and efficient powertrains. We suspect what those critics are really saying is that those companies aren't making more sports cars or cleaner full-size family sedans. (You'd be surprised how many truck bigots there are in the media, or maybe you wouldn't.)

We would argue the exact opposite. Without these vehicles that provide large and predictable amounts of capital, Ford, GM, and Chrysler would not be able to fund future-tech research and development projects, put together advanced concepts, or assign designers and engineers to explore new technologies. 

It may sound simple on paper — just keep making the current truck better — but producing a product that buyers want year after year, decade after decade, is a momumental challenge that offers very few success stories. Certainly these three pickup trucks rate among the biggest success stories in the industry but to stay there they'll have to continue pushing the bar forward and higher. 

It's worth noting, as well, according to this data, Ford is making a 14.6-percent profit on total revenues, GM 13.3-percent, and Dodge 10-percent. This information bodes well for those of us who want to see the Detroit Three (and all pickup makers) continue to invest in full-size pickups.  

The top 12 vehicles, according to Bernstein Research are below.

Most Profitable Vehicles


I know that the 55k I plunked down for my new Chevy sure felt like someone was making some dough.

I don't think that paints an accurate picture. I think GM is keeping more of its profits than Ford due to the fact that they're riding the same technology longer than Ford. For example, I'm sure Ford has invested hundreds of millions to produce the engines and technology it now has in it's trucks. GM has been riding the same design with few tweaks longer, thus earning a larger return on it's investment. Ford may have a larger profit from it's revenues, but it comes at a cost that we don't know, but certainly much higher than GM's. We don't know what their true income is from these trucks, all we know is what they make as a whole from their SEC reportings. I wish they'd tell us what their true net income was from these trucks, after all their true costs are revealed. All this tells us is that there is a higher profit margin on Ford trucks (or fewer incentives) than with the other truck makers, and this "should" be the case due to all the newer technology they have, which in most cases sells itself. In other words, GM and Dodge are offering higher rebates and incentives to get customers to buy their trucks, thus taking away from profits, than Ford currently does. It's a cycle that is apparent when a "new product" is offered, in this case, the Ecoboost engine, Raptor, etc. GM will see much higher profits from its trucks in 2013 when it's new trucks hit showroom floors. It's just a cycle, but good information, nonetheless.

@ Chris
i don't think ford turns out more profit with all there warranties (6.0 & 6.4) problems and all the recalls,

Uh-Oh, this is a field day for the Bobs!


"It's worth noting, as well, according to this data, Ford is making a 14-percent profit on total revenues, Dodge 10-percent, and GM 7.5-percent. This information bodes well for those of us who want to see the Detroit Three (and all pickup makers) continue to invest in full-size pickups."


I wonder if this includes the money made from the financing of these vehicles under the manufactures own financing companies? That alone even with the usually low interest rates would amount to a decent amount of money.

The unions are sucking GMs profits. They made some bad negotiations in the past and it is still costing them dearly. The new GM has better contracts with the unions and that should lead to a better bottom line.

I wonder if this includes the money made from the financing of these vehicles under the manufactures own financing companies? That alone even with the usually low interest rates would amount to a decent amount of money.

Posted by: alton | Nov 30, 2011 3:25:34 PM

I would say no. Financing companies are considered separate entities.

@Guys - they are talking profits, not gross or net income.
Profits are what they earned above and beyond paying the bills/expenses.
I'm amazed that they still make these kinds of profits with all the discounts they throw around.

i think they are gouging the consumer, at least we know we can get them cheaper if the time ever comes, deeper recession

Ford makes more because they upsell you on accessories. A king ranch doesn't cost much more than a base model to produce but i'm sure they make 5 x the profit. Look at how many different upscale models Ford offers and then do the math.

Ford makes more because they upsell you on accessories. A king ranch doesn't cost much more than a base model to produce but i'm sure they make 5 x the profit. Look at how many different upscale models Ford offers and then do the math.

Posted by: toycrusher84 | Nov 30, 2011 3:45:23 PM

King Ranch and Sierra Denali = MAJOR CASH COWS

@toycrusher84 - what you say is very true. Try to go to a dealer and find a plane jane truck or ask for one. The salesman will try to sell you a fancier truck. the most common excuses given are resale and "it will only cost you $60 dollars more a month".

More of a reason NOT to buy one!

Your just blowing money away so the fat cats in the corporate offices get their fat bonuses!

I'll take my mid-sized with much lower profit margin for the OEM manufacturer anyday over these overpriced parade floats!

@Oxi - I Don't think Toyota is hurting from Tacoma sales. That's their cash cow. They have A VERY LONG way to go before they recoup their investment in the Tundra and start profiting from it.

Ford is just padding their numbers to look like they are #1 but the really smart ones know who is really #1. GM of course, they are the best so you might as well forget the rest. Ford might be lucky if they were in last place on that phony list. Let it be written for I have spoken!!

Ok, will someone please do the math on each line on the chart. Please. GM's numbers are not matching 7.5%. Please show what I'm missing. Thanks.

The stats are wrong on GM. It should be 13.3 %. Ford 14.4%. Dodge 10%. Math was wrong 40/300=13.3 not 300/40.

Ford 14.5% I meant. Simple math.

the 6.0 and the 6.4 weren't fords problem. It was internationals.

That's why they build the diesels themselves now.

Sorry for the math mistakes. Good catches. Thanks for the help. Will get the text changed.


I am glad people make a profit,Oxi makes a profit when he/she goes to work,so why cant a company make a profit,without profit there would be no jobs,no computers,no trucks ect.. This site wouldnt exist if it wasnt for a profit.

Profits are good,I bet we would all like to make more profit,but to some profit is bad for some reason because they are confused and mis-guided !!And taxing corporations more makes prices go up and you pay more for goods/service.

Nobody is forcing anybody to buy a new truck,they have a $50,000+ truck if people want it,they will buy it !! If not they wouldnt build it ! I want Chrysler/Ford/GM to make as much profit as they can !!!

If you dont like anybody making a profit,dont go to work,dont buy food,water,shelter as someone is making a profit..go live in the bush and ear grass !!


Go protest at an occupy event,those people are clueless as is your comment !!

Buy a Toyota you are making Japanese Fat Cats Rich !! And you are making Americans poorer !! The Majority of profits from Toyota goes to Japan,and go to Japan look around you would be hard pressed to find any westerners there,they are racist and dont like multiculturalism !

I love american pickup trucks mostly Ram but also Ford and Chevy but 60K for a truck i mean come on all they got is little more hp and torque then 90's modles and they were only 20K i think Ford CHevy Ram just in it for the money thats why i buy older trucks there cheaper and aint got as much electical crap so if something tears up dont cost that much to fix and the older models last way way way longer!

No matter what your preferred brand of truck, it is obvious that they are overpriced.

I am a capitalist to the core, but the Ford profit is surprising. The cynical side of me thinks:

1. Way over-priced
2. Not that well built
3. Components made in cheap countries (China/Mexico)
4. Any combination of the above

BTW, my last truck was a Ford and I currently own a Mustang... .

GMC is the most profetable company. They have been selling the oldest unchanged truck the longest. GMC RULES Ferd drools and Ram it were the son dont shine.

@Dav -
1. Maybe, but so are the others
2. No. Virtual tie with Tundra for durability.
3. Strong possibility. 2011 domestic USA content down to 65%.
4. I'd say mostly #3, but You left out sales incentives. Ford has had less USA discounts than the competition.
You could add the fact that Ford has more luxury trim packages than the competition.
Ford's R&D of its new engine lineup must cost less than one would expect. EB engines have been out in Europe for a short while. Perhaps the "One Ford" global strategy is already benefitting Ford.

I want to pretend to be Bob. It sounds like fun.

Uhhh, you guys cannot make any conclusions about this data. Its an estimate, and assumptions of a reseacher. Nice talking point, and fun to read everyone's comments. Thats about it.

@Bob: GM is selling alot now in half tons, they overbuilt, now they are just above Titans when it comes to how close they are to MSRP. And Titans can't get mileage so there's your answer.

I'll be so glad when I'm able to afford another Ford F-250 diesel. Traded my 2002 a couple of years ago for an Explorer. Was a bad mistake.

Thank goodness for; Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Group L.L.C., making some fine pickups. The United States of America (economy/citizens) has the most to gain by these three great American companies. Keeping more money here, in America!

Way to go -Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors!!!

oxi, This county wouldn't work if it wasn't for full-size trucks! You can't replace a full-size truck with a million mid-sizes!

Lol @ Dave. Well, Dave, how did Europe, Australia, Asia get built up? I presume more "American Arrogance"?

These numbers are for the past 20 years. A lot has changed in the industry over that time. I'd like to see the % of profit over the past year to see how it compares to the 20 year average.

Well right now they are all offering up to 10 grand off 2011 4X4 trucks, that has to eat into thier profits big time. They are still making money but not quite as much.

@Tin Indian,

Your not very bright? Brining the old union attitude of the profits go to Japan are we?

The big 3 are sending more cash overseas (includes Mexico and Canada) than Toyota will make in their U.S. operations!

But it's ok being a non-shareholder of any of the big 3 yet you applaud their profit margins when none of it is yours or any of it your business!

You missed my point, full-size pickups are over-priced and a good chunk of your personal income is being sent to make the larger shareholders fatter and fatter!

I'd rather keep more of my money in my pocket than waste it away so some large shareholders can hoard it all while the jobs are shipped overseas!

If you guys realize a full-size pickup has a $10,000 profit from the OEM, why on earth would you buy something that over priced?

Wouldn't you want to keep the majority of that $10,000 in your pocket?

Unless your a shareholder and want to increase the value of the stock you own in the OEM and the majority of that fat profit for the OEM could, maybe increase your shareholder value but that is a steep risk...

Pissing money away...

And don't hand me none of that the profit supports a U.S. company (that is shipping jobs overseas anyways) because that is so communist/socialist of you, I do not even want to go down that road!

I feel sorry for the Gm lovers. They spend alot of money on a cheaply built inferior truck!!!

This is why you're a fool to buy a new fullsized truck and why fullsized trucks depreciate so astoundingly quickly after you drive them off the lot...It's because the PRICE is much higher than the actual inherent VALUE.

The above table is proof that you're paying more for it than it's really worth.

No one is forcing anyone to buy new... Buy used if you have a problem with these profits. This is still a free society for the most part. Stop crying like little biatches over profits.

I guess everyone should just buy used to get max value. How long would that last?

The more you sell the more profits you can make. Higher quantities sold help keep item costs down.

The question is which of the "big three" will be best positioned to quickly adapt to future changes. They'll need cash on hand for r&d investment and they should already be investing in the future technologies. I'd guess it'll be more difficult to make money in the future.

The F series and GM pickups are doing well but it looks like the largest profits are being made with: Porsche 911 (25%) and Lexus Rx (18.8%).

The dogs are: Honda Accord (5.5%), Jeep Grand Cherokee (7.8%), and BMW 3 series (5.9%).

Hopefully my math is correct.

I'm a Dave Ramsey follower. My wife and are both engineers with a combined income of nearly 200k. We will NEVER buy a new vehicle again. We own a Duramax with 200,000+, and 2 cars with 100,000 miles. When we buy another one, we'll pay cash. My family's goals are to be rich, to not borrow money, and to live beneath our means, and to pass these values on to our 3 kids. I love cars and trucks, but not payments. A used car is just as good as new if properly caredf for and inspected before purchase.

What makes me angry is that ideology has held back the proliferation of high efficiency diesels into the US car market. Ford and GM market diesel powered cars in Europe and Asia for many years but have neglected the US car market.

Diesel pickups are far superior to gas powered pickups, they get better mileage, produce more power and torque, and run 3 to 5 times longer.

I have been driving diesel cars since 1986. Since my first VW TDI diesel in 1995 I average 42 mpg city and 50 mpg highway.

If more people drove 40 and 50 mpg diesel cars there would be much less demand for oil. If you travel further on half the fuel you reduce demand but also reduce pollution and the expensive ideology driven hybrids would not be pushed on us as a "green" solution.

Remove the tarifs on imported trucks and watch prices drop, see more/better competition in the market. the big three would actually have to compete, invest in the products and tech, or die...again.


@Chuck Burns

That was then but Today's diesel compact cars are lucky to get 40 MPG. The effciency of gas engines are improving while diesels are increasingly hampered by emissions. Trust me you don't want a diesel in your 1/2 ton truck what with the added costs of fuel, taxes and upfront purchase price not to mention down the road repair costs. A diesel may last 2X longer but in the end you may spend 3X more to get it there when you added it ALL up. In theory a 1/2 ton diesel would get 30 MPG but in reality probably not so much. 3/4 ton diesels may get slightly better fuel economy than gas back and forth to the shopping mall but work them hard and you're back at single digit MPG.

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