General Motors Takes Driver’s Seat In “Truck Wars”

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If you thought popularity contests were beneath corporate executives, think again. Automaker c-suites keep a close eye on Detroit’s “truck wars” as a measure of prestige (and bragging rights) among industry-leading pickup trucks.

And in a rare turn, General Motors notched the top spot in 2020, hauling in the most sales of large pickups and outpacing Ford for the first time in 5 years.

The Truck King Of Detroit

Pickup trucks are the main profit engine for cross-town rivals Ford and GM, who dominate the U.S. market along with Fiat Chrysler’s Ram brand.

And truck-heavy portfolios were rewarded last year – according to J.D. Power, the average selling price of a light-duty full-size pickup jumped 9% in 2020 to about $45,800. Plus, large pickups drew 16.7% of all U.S. auto sales, an increase of more than 4% since 2015.

With Americans leaning in to pickups, let’s take a look at the final sales tallies for Detroit’s heavyweights:

  • Even as industry-wide auto sales sagged nearly 15%, General Motors’ Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups had 3.9% higher sales than a year earlier. GM inked an industry high 839,691 pickup sales in 2020, citing a big increase in Q4 deliveries.
  • Meanwhile Ford’s F Series moved 787,422 vehicles in 2020, a 12% sales slump versus a year earlier.

The Nuts And Bolts: The moral of this story is preparation. In 2019, GM rolled out new-and-improved models of its two pickups and cleared out factory capacity to produce a wider selection of bigger and pricier models. Ford’s F-Series inventory was hampered by factory shutdowns and by the automaker refitting plants to build a new edition of its top-selling F-150.

Dealership Deserts

If car salesmen had a bad reputation before, 2020 did them no favors. Factory shutdowns left U.S. dealerships with 25% fewer new vehicles on hand, giving buyers less options and sellers more bargaining power.

But 2020 was no picnic for dealers. While the numbers are still rolling in, analysts project U.S. vehicle sales were their lowest since 2012.

Though record-low interest rates and federal stimulus payments to Americans should boost sales in the year ahead (IHS Markit expects a 10% increase over last year), dealer lots remain understocked, and a shortage of semiconductor chips puts a bounce-back far from a certainty.

The Exception To The Rule: Which automaker defied the odds last year? Tesla, of course. Last week the company said its global sales surged about 36% in 2020. And for good measure, just yesterday Elon Musk became the world’s richest person.