It's not every year you have two major competitors in one of the biggest volume segments come out with a brand-new truck, but it happened this year: F-150 versus Ram. But there are other good vehicles there as well. The half-ton pickup-truck segment has traditionally been the keeper of the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. but that's changed recently. Fuel prices spiked to new highs, and new vehicle sales fell off a cliff as many in-market shoppers wait and watch an unstable economy.
Some are predicting this is the beginning of the end of the full-size segment for SUVs and pickups. Others are saying everything will go back to normal as soon as fuel prices drop. Our guess is it'll likely be somewhere in the middle. There's no question that automakers have to find a new business model. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler have already made deep cuts and will likely have to think long and hard about combining forces.
The once bulletproof full-size pickup-truck segment is looking much more vulnerable than it did when Toyota decided to invest well over one billion dollars in a new San Antonio truck plant. Ford recently bet the farm on redesigning and improving its number-one-selling vehicle of all time. And Dodge is coming to the ring with a few new tricks that could make or break the company.
We've heard many say this is exactly the wrong time to come to a shrunken marketplace with new product. After all, GM got its new truck out almost three years ago when profits were still high. Even Toyota had a good amount of success with its new full-full-size Tundra. Still, some are quicker than others to make the hard decisions. Nissan recently announced it'll be shutting down its not-so-successful Titan line, in favor of buying some new Dodge Ram over capacity. We'll see how Nissan Titan loyalists feel about having a Hemi. If that alone isn't a clear indication how the world of pickup trucks has changed, we don't know what is.
And now Ford and Dodge are coming to market with their newest half-ton pickup trucks, and both companies need big successes. As truck guys, this is great for us, whether or not the car media understands it. We'd hate to see what shape either of these companies would be in if they didn't have new pickups getting so much attention. But make no mistake--a slip-up here will not only cost millions, but it will be directly responsible for how much energy and resources can be allocated to future technology and engineering. What sells on the lot today will likely fund what we drive tomorrow.
Complain about full-size pickups all you want, car guys, but without the vehicles that haul, lift, and tow (basically supporting the backbone of the U.S. economy), the necessary research for the cars of tomorrow never happens.