The State Of America’s Pickup Truck Market: 2020 Q3

Image: FordBetter than 16 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States in the third quarter of 2020 were full-size pickup trucks, an increase created by relatively steady truck sales in an unsteady world.

And who’s to thank? Ford, primarily. 

<img data-attachment-id="1737188" data-permalink="" data-orig-file="" data-orig-size="2022,1474" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}" data-image-title="USA pickup truck market share chart 2020 Q3 YTD" data-image-description="

Image: © TTAC

” data-medium-file=”” data-large-file=”” class=”aligncenter size-large wp-image-1737188″ src=”” alt=”USA pickup truck market share chart 2020 Q3 YTD – Image: © TTAC” width=”610″ height=”445″ data-srcset=” 610w, 75w, 450w, 768w, 120w” sizes=”(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px”>Following a COVID-inflicted 33 percent nosedive in auto sales in the second quarter of 2020, full-size pickups are taking advantage of a resurgent auto industry, grabbing an even greater percentage of available truck volume. Eighty percent of the pickups sold in America over the last three months were full-size trucks. In fact, while midsize pickups stumbled to the tune of a 7 percent year-over-year drop in Q3 – still not as poor as the overall industry’s showing – full-size pickups very nearly matched 2019’s pre-COVID sales pace.

The degree to which the full-size sector’s positive results serve as an accurate indicator of demand, however, is unknown due to three factors. First, by most accounts, prevailing demand would suggest even greater sales volume would be possible if only pickup truck inventory was at typical levels. Second, after a phase of shutdowns and mass unemployment, defining current demand as opposed to leftover pent-up demand is next to impossible. Third, 2019 results naturally included a high level of fleet demand; 2020’s include a lower level of fleet. That has obvious knock-on effects when it comes to retail volume.

Rank Truck 2020 Q3 2019 Q3 % Change 2020 YTD 2019 YTD % Change
#1 Ford F-Series 221,647 214,176 3.5% 589,034 662,574 -11.1%
#2 Ram P/U 156,157 161,635 -3.4% 402,410 461,115 -12.7%
#3 Chevrolet Silverado 148,574 156,840 -5.3% 418,144 415,481 0.6%
#4 GMC Sierra 67,812 66,198 2.4% 174,645 163,601 6.8%
#5 Toyota Tacoma 58,920 65,756 -10.4% 163,619 187,622 -12.8%
#6 Ford Ranger 28,350 26,211 8.2% 74,338 56,512 31.5%
#7 Toyota Tundra 27,934 31,565 -11.5% 76,814 86,062 -10.7%
#8 Chevrolet Colorado 27,256 31,657 -13.9% 68,529 96,820 -29.2%
#9 Jeep Gladiator 22,163 16,132 37.4% 56,990 23,384 144%
#10 Honda Ridgeline 8,607 8,378 2.7% 23,112 23,633 -2.2%
#11 Nissan Frontier 7,213 15,364 -53.1% 26,287 54,686 -51.9%
#12 Nissan Titan 7,207 7,386 -2.4% 19,403 25,412 -23.6%
#13 GMC Canyon 6,475 7,437 -12.9% 16,183 23,600 -38.5%
——— —– —– —– —–
Midsize 158,984 170,935 -7.0% 429,058 468,957 -8.5%
Full-Size 629,331 637,800 -1.3% 1,680,450 1,814,245 -7.4%
Total 788,315 808,735 -2.5% 2,109,508 2,283,202 -7.6%

Setting aside the unknowns, there remains plenty we do know. After a first half in which GM’s Silverado/Sierra duo reported unlikely strength, Ford’s F-Series took advantage of GM’s Q3 slip (the full-size twins were down 3 percent), Ram’s similar 3 percent decrease, and declines from the less competitive Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan to grow Blue Oval market share by two points to 35 percent.

Ford’s task now is to balance inventory of the outgoing F-150 as the next-generation F-150 comes on stream. Although Ford is reaping the rewards of a very popular Explorer now, Ford’s dealers were certainly unhappy when that consequential SUV was launched. The F-150’s launch is far more important and far more complex. It must not go wrong.

There certainly doesn’t appear to be a problem with Ford’s operation in the midsize truck segment. So far this year, Ranger market share has soared five points to 17 percent this year. Ranger volume in Q3, despite a 7 percent slowdown in midsize truck sales, was up 8 percent.

The Ranger is part of a tight two-way race in the midsize segment, albeit not for the gold-medal position. The Toyota Tacoma, even in short supply, outsells the No. 2 Ranger by more than two-to-one. The Ranger is, however, in a close race with the Chevrolet Colorado, and to a lesser degree the Jeep Gladiator. The Gladiator’s 37 percent year-over-year improvement in Q3 was the most notable in the truck segment.

Specific truck performances aside, the overall pickup category’s performance remains immensely important to the auto industry as a whole while also serving as a nation’s economic barometer. After an unpredictable second-quarter and a somewhat less surprising third-quarter, forecasting fourth-quarter results may well be a fool’s errand in this year of constant bombshells. A guarded projection would suggest a Q3-aping decline through the end of the year, enough for another 819,000 pickup truck sales by the end of the year; 2.93 million by New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve. It sounds like a lifetime away.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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