The first month of 2017 is done and the truck sales scoreboard is running. So far the decade-old Nissan Frontier is outselling the all-new Titan, the Tacoma still rules small trucks and the Ford Raptor is allegedly outselling the Corvette. Here’s a breakdown of what all that really means.
Why do we care about truck sales?
Perceived popularity is a favorite refrain in automotive advertising, particularly when it comes to trucks. If you’ve ever spent half an hour in front of a TV you’ve probably heard the Ford F-Series called “the best-selling truck in America.”
But as you can see by the way the above chart is organized, “F-Series” sales are reported as a combination of six distinct models. Ram also reports the 1500 through 5500 as “Ram P/U.” Other brands pull similar tricks in their reporting, to slightly different degrees. Chevy, for example, counts three models (1500, 2500 and 3500) as “Silverado” in the sales report it releases to the public.
So there are two reasons why we care about the pickup truck sales report: It’s a fun scoreboard for one of the biggest consumer-product rivalries going, but it’s also a murky marketing trick that deserves to be dissected critically every time it’s referenced. Also, bonus, I like making charts.
Why is this chart organized by “Large,” “Medium” and “Small?”
I’ve separated truck types this way for the sake of simplification and based on the way automakers report data.
The actual technical classifications:“Class 1, Class 2, Class 2B, Class 2C” and “mid-sized, half-ton, three-quarter-ton, one-ton” are confusing to the layperson and frankly archaic. But even if we wanted to break truck sales reports out by weight or specific model, we couldn’t, because automakers don’t share their data at this level of detail.
A “half-ton” truck used to be called that because its payload capacity (what it could carry in its bed) would have been half a ton. Now there are variants of “half-ton” trucks, like the new Ford F-150, with payload ratings over a full ton.
With that in mind, I’ll walk you through my system of data organization here.
Ford, GM and Ram all bundle half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton sized trucks as “F-Series,” “Silverado/Sierra” and “P/U” respectively. Since no other automakers do this, it makes the most sense to put the Big Three in one category which we’ll call “Large Trucks.”
The Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan are available as half-ton trucks only. The Titan XD eludes classification since it’s technically between the specifications typically assigned to half-ton and three-quarter-ton trucks, but Nissan lumps it in with the Titan on its sales report.
But since neither Japanese automaker has a truck comparable to the largest vehicles in the Big Three’s sales report, I’m putting the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titans in their own category we’ll call “Medium Trucks.”
I’m using “Small” to describe the mid-sized trucks: Toyota Tacoma, GM’s Colorado/Canyon and the Nissan Frontier because relative to the rest of the market, they are the small options. If we’re still doing this analysis in 2019 the Ranger will be in this category, too.
The Honda Ridgeline is not really mechanically comparable to the crop I just mentioned, mainly because its made from unibody construction rather than being built around a frame like the rest. However, It’s about the same phyiscal size and ergo arguably occupies the same place in the market so I thought it warranted inclusion here.
If you scroll down in our little chart you’ll notice I’m also tracking the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner’s sales this year. Since these are the only relatively affordable enthusiast 4x4s on the market, I’m curious to see how they perform in light of the Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser’s relatively recent demise.
With a new Ford Bronco on the horizon, I hypothesize that this segment of fun 4x4s might actually pick up steam over the course of the year. So we’ll watch the market for the next few months and see what happens.
Why the heck are the trucks lumped together this way?
This is the finest point on pickup truck sales data you can get with what’s released to the public. It’s murky and misleading, which is why I think this stuff is worth looking at critically.
Obviously, automakers are tracking down sales performance of each model down to the trim level and region. But we only get a glimpse into that level of detail when somebody on the inside teases out some meaningless anecdote. Yesterday, for instance, somebody at Ford revealed the company sold at least 1,264 Raptors in January by tweeting that the truck outsold the Chevy Corvette.
Why aren’t you counting the Toyota Land Cruiser or any Land Rovers as “enthusiast 4x4s?”
I’m more interested in more affordable, higher-volume vehicles.
What’s Important In January’s Sales Numbers
Alright, now that we’ve walked through some technical backstory of truck sales numbers let’s look at what we can see.
Ford’s Huge Catalogue Is Paying Off
I’ve criticized Ford for piling all its consumer truck models into one row of its sales report labeled “F-Series,” but I won’t deny that the company’s reaping benefits of a diverse portfolio. And Ford has made significant leaps in consumer offerings over the last year The new Super Duty is loaded with idiot-proofing tech and the high-performance Raptor has literally created its own segment in the pickup truck marketplace, just like the commercials promised.
How Nissan’s “New Titan” Is Doing
Nissan’s also going to be interesting to watch this year. As it stands, the developmentally neglected Frontier is outselling the all-new Titan and Titan XD combined. But there’s more to the story. The redesigned Titan lineup is still in its ramp-up process that actually won’t be completely on sale until the Chicago Auto Show later this month.
Four out of the truck’s five configurations have been launched, and production capacity is still being increased according to a Nissan representative I spoke with on the phone.
As the last variant of the Titan comes online at a date “TBD” this year, it will be interesting to see where the model’s sales numbers go.
Tacoma Versus Colorado
In smaller trucks, the new-for-2016 Tacoma is starting 2017 dominating the space. The Chevy Colorado has picked up some momentum from this time last year, but is still hovering at around half the Toyota’s sales figure.
The Last Two True “Off-Road Toys”
The Wrangler is pulling away from the 4Runner with a 2,635-unit lead. This time last year, 4Runner was only about 1,000 units behind.
We’ve tried a few different tacks to analyzing pickup truck sales in the past, and I hope this one helps enlighten you as you start hearing advertisements this year. See you next month.