Full-size pickups became the U.S. auto industry's largest segment in the second quarter as the coronavirus pandemic slashed new-vehicle sales by roughly one-third.
Big pickups outsold compact crossovers, which had been No. 1 every quarter since sedans fell out of favor with consumers in recent years. Including the midsize segment that Jeep and Ford have reentered, one in four vehicles sold by nonluxury brands from April through June was a pickup, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
"Even when the vehicle market goes completely sideways, the truck market stays straight and true," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. "This is particularly good news for domestic brands like Chevrolet, Ford and Ram, all of which rely heavily on high-profit truck sales. This trend will likely continue as the economy recovers and consumers look to start delayed home improvements, relocations and other truck-friendly activities."
Excluding Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar Land Rover, which are expected to report their results this week, U.S. new-vehicle sales plummeted 34 percent in the second quarter.
Industry sales suffered as plant shutdowns reduced inventories and many dealerships had to temporarily close or complete transactions online to comply with government restrictions. Pickup volume declined less than most other segments, in part because of the 0 percent financing offers auto makers rolled out as the pandemic roiled the economy. Many dealers said they sold the majority of the pickups they had in stock.
"GM entered the quarter with very lean inventories and our dealers did a great job meeting customer demand, especially for pickups," Kurt McNeil, General Motors' U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement. "Now, we are refilling the pipeline by quickly and safely returning production to pre-pandemic levels."
GMC Sierra sales dipped 5 percent in the second quarter, and Chevy Silverado volume fell 14 percent. Both nameplates were among the few to post increases for the first half of the year.
Sales dropped 23 percent in the second quarter for the Ford F-Series and 35 percent for the Ram pickup line. Sales of midsize pickups—such as the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator—slid 16 percent. Pickups represented 25 percent of nonluxury brand sales, up from 21 percent a year earlier.
Other segments that fared better than average include subcompact crossovers, down 8.3 percent, and large premium crossovers, down 8 percent. Meanwhile, sales of subcompact cars and minivans fell by more than half.
Ford Motor Co. posted second-quarter sales increases for just two vehicles in its lineup: the Explorer, up 12 percent, and the Ranger, up 20 percent. Large utilities and pickups are performing better because people need them for work, and affluent consumers who often buy such vehicles have been less affected by the pandemic, said Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
"The unemployment issue, unfortunately, has hit the service industry hard—younger people," he told Automotive News. "The fact that pickups are needed for work and vehicles like Expedition and Explorer are doing better doesn't surprise us."
Michael Martinez and Nick Bunkley contributed to this report.