A lot of things changed in the industry in 2009, but the American appetite for full-size pickups apparently wasn't among them. A quick perusal of the best-selling vehicles of last year showed a familiar face atop the leader board: The Ford F-150, for the 28th consecutive year, bested every other vehicle in the country by racking up 413,625 sales in 2009, which was 56,801 more than the No. 2 vehicle, the Toyota Camry.
But that's just for starters. Coming in at the third spot on the list was the Chevrolet Silverado, at 316,544 sales; the Dodge Ram, with 177,268 sales, closed out the 2009 top ten; and if we dip down to the 18th spot, we find the GMC Sierra was good for 111,842 sales. All told, the Detroit automakers together sold 1,019,279 full-size pickups last year, representing an amazing 9.8 percent of the entire market.
True, this is down from 2008, when those four trucks were responsible for a full 10.5 percent of the total market, but Cash for Clunkers certainly skewed sales results this summer, since it was designed to get people into more fuel-efficient vehicles.
And regardless of the program's effect, 2009 year-end numbers showed pickups again picking up steam. The F-150 saw sales climb a robust 15.9 percent in December, the Ram was up 23 percent compared to November, and even the GM duo '” not coincidentally the oldest of the four trucks '” essentially stayed the course, with December sales of the Silverado down just .1 percent and the Sierra off 6.1 percent.
A Cold 2009 for the Toyota Tundra
Meanwhile, the Toyota Tundra, much heralded as a true competitor to the Detroit trucks, was down 10.4 percent in December, although that doesn't tell the full story. The Tundra notched 79,385 sales in 2009, well behind not only the F-150, Ram, Silverado and Sierra, but also tens of thousands of units behind the much smaller Toyota Tacoma pickup. I suppose the glass-half-full crew would say this reflected a surprisingly impressive performance by the Tacoma '” and some of that is definitely going on '” but I don't think the net result here is what Toyota had in mind when it debuted the Tundra.
Really the only other credible full-size pickup entry is the Nissan Titan, which posted a 1.1 percent sales gain in December, although its year-end total barely eclipsed the 19,000-unit marks.
Now, when you add the 16,819 annual Chevrolet Avalanche sales into the full-size pickup mix '” which is exactly what GM does '” the domestic OEMs still own some 91 percent of the segment. (Note: "The Detroit Free Press" originally broke this story using 2009 numbers through November; my calculations here use the full year's worth of results.)
Clash of the Nissan Titan
That makes a recent announcement regarding the Titan more than a little surprising: Nissan had been planning to replace its current-generation truck in the near future by leveraging a deal with Chrysler to rebadge the Ram for Nissan dealers. It would have been similar to how Volkswagen currently rejiggers the Chrysler Town & Country into a VW Routan.
However, the Nissan/Chrysler pact fell apart, which didn't seem to bode well for a new Titan. After all, developing a new pickup takes a truckload of cash, something in short supply at most automakers these days. Further, I'd have thought the chances of an all-new Titan recouping this kind of investment would be pretty low, considering Nissan's share of the segment verges on the subterranean.
Yet, lo and behold, Nissan has come out in a recent story saying that a new Titan is in development and slated to go on sale in 2011. Providing an assist to Nissan: No one.
That's a heavy burden to shoulder for a company that is pumping significant amounts of money into its electric vehicle program and also about to be passed up by Hyundai-Kia as the sixth biggest vehicle seller in the U.S. And you'll notice the South Koreans are making their move without fielding '” or even considering '” a full-size pickup.
No Nissan Quest in 2010
Oh, and Nissan also is in the midst of developing the next iteration of its Nissan Quest minivan, a vehicle that sold only 127 units in December, achieved a mere 8,437 sales overall for 2009 and won't even be produced for 2010. I suppose this makes a bit more sense though, as I'm betting there's a lot more opportunity in the minivan segment than amongst the big pickups, especially for foreign makers: Vehicles like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna have no trouble finding minivan purchasers.
But Nissan faces a difficult road here, too. The new Sienna, going into production this year, is an attempt to revolutionize the minivan segment that just might succeed. The Odyssey, Town & Country and Dodge Caravan all will be getting major renovations for 2011. And on the other hand, both Ford and GM have smaller "multipurpose vehicles" on their way that could siphon off some of the minivan intenders that these new entries don't claim.
All of which could leave Nissan in need of yet another new quest: One that would lead it back to a strong car lineup and improving sales.