Large pickup sales need a big boost to move a market that appears to have peaked.
The peak is coming. The sales peak is coming! Actually, the light-vehicle sales peak already has arrived. You just have to look below the surface of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rate reporting contest to see it.
Sales of new light vehicles, excluding large pickups, have reached the plateau established during the last market expansion. Arguably, large-pickup deliveries are influenced by a wider set of factors (commercial) than traditional sedans, coupes and SUVs. So, to dissect current sales performance we have eliminated large pickups to get a closer look at the 88% of the market that primarily is focused on personal transportation.
Back in 2005, the LV market reached a sales-cycle peak of 17 million units. During that climb consumers purchased 5.92 million light vehicles less pickups (LVLP). This group of vehicles topped out at 5.95 million units the following year, contributing 86.5% of sales. In 2014, LVLP sales have returned to record levels, coming in at 5.94 million through May.
In essence, the market has returned to peak, buttressed by four consecutive years of low interest rates and average loan-repayment terms of 66 months.
Large-pickup sales performance is a different story.
The segment is about 375,000 units off the 2.5 million pace established in 2005. Truck of the Year honors and new sheetmetal aren’t enough to overcome the poor economic fundamentals holding back sales. A new large-pickup peak will require additional employment and economic growth in the next two years. Unfortunately, we are not close to past peak economic realities, when real GDP growth averaged more than 3%, housing starts were above 1.7 million units and monthly paystubs allowed large-pickup intenders to become consumers.
Pent-up demand has been fulfilled for a broad sector of the market. We are going to have to wait until the next sales cycle, probably 2017-2018, to surpass the 2005 sales peak.
Supplier alert: We are going to see an annual sales dip before we get to more growth, and large pickups would need to pick up the pace to dodge that bullet.
Warren P. Browne is president of WP Browne Consulting and has extensive experience in the global automobile industry. During the past 20 years, he has held senior executive positions at General Motors, including in Brazil, Poland and Russia. He currently serves as an adjunct professor of economics at Lawrence Technological University.