Lessons From Irma and Harvey: Pickup Trucks Work Best and Sell Best When It All Goes Bad

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Following two massive storms, residents replacing vehicles are turning to pickups in huge numbers.

Pickup trucks are uniquely American and following two of America’s hardest-hitting storms in the modern age, those looking to replace a damaged vehicle are turning to pickup trucks. September was the month that proved this theory. Both the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado line had huge gains, and both grew by over 20% compared to last September, which was itself a banner month of sales. The top-selling Toyota Tacoma midsize truck also had a historically-high sales month, breaking 18,000 units, a milestone the truck has only passed a few times. Only production capacity held back all of the sales leaders.

Without a doubt, a lot of these trucks are replacing ones destroyed by the storms. There is no accurate count of what vehicle types in what amounts were totaled by flooding or other damage, but the industry has settled on about 500,000 vehicles in total being taken out of service for good.

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Images of rescues from flooded areas inevitably involved a pickup truck. Whether the truck itself was doing the rescuing or towing in a pair of Waverunners to go deeper into a flood-zone, the pickup was always on hand. This image is not lost on the buying public who understand that even basic, “entry level” pickups have more ground clearance, more water fording capability, and more cargo-carrying capacity than any other vehicle at the same price point. The conscious or unconscious message that pickups are true workhorses has translated into sales, putting Ford, GM, and other automakers back into the truck business shortly after crossovers have recently passed trucks as the top-selling vehicle type overall.

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For September, Ford’s F-Series pickup truck sales were 82,302, up from about 67,000 last September. Putting Ford’s F-Series sales into perspective, the F-Series outsells every model sold by both Volkswagen and Subaru combined. As impressive as Ford’s F-Series sales are, GM actually sells more pickup trucks. In September, GM sold a total of 87,535 trucks. Its Colorado and Canyon midsize pickups are what makes GM the total sales leader. Ford completely missed the rise of the midsize truck market and has nothing to sell, though its Ranger is poised for a big return soon. Ram had its best month of the year with sales of about 47,000 units. Even the slower-selling Nissan Titan had a banner month, up 52% to sell almost 4,000 trucks.

What is really amazing about these pickup truck sales numbers is that they didn’t steal from the hot compact crossover segment. Chevy’s Equinox just had its second near-30K unit month and the top sellers all did as well as usual. Cars have jumped the shark, but that’s old news. The meat of the market is now trucks and crossovers and it turns out that hurricanes are very good for sales.