How 2014 Became the Year of the Truck Once Again

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
Source: Fiat-Chrysler

Looking at the past year in the automotive industry, three things jump out from the truck segment. First, Ford redesigned the best-selling pickup for nearly four decades. Second, General Motors brought back its midsize truck lineup to great fanfare. Thirdly, Ram threw down the gauntlet for the first full-size diesel 1500. Combined with a shrinking footprint from SUVs in the crossover category, the truck (i.e., not a car) segment managed to outsell sedans and coupes every month in 2014. Here’s why the U.S. saw a return of the Year of the Truck.

Truck sales recall 2004

According to Bloomberg, 2014 marked the first year pickups, SUVs, and minivans outsold cars since 2004. A decade ago, cheap oil prices made vehicles like the Hummer viable for the industry while the Escalade and different Jeep models stormed U.S. streets. Looking at the sales numbers, those days are very much back as 2015 begins, and it has nothing to do with minivans.

Ram pickup sales are up 23% in 2014 compared to the prior year, while the redesigned Silverado (up 8%) and GMC Sierra (up 13%) are holding up their end of the bargain. Ford’s massive F-Series sales are more or less keeping their staggering volume in the middle of a full redesign. Meanwhile, the introduction of new midsize pickups by GM have reinvigorated the market many thought had disappeared along with low gas prices.

In fact, with the Chevy Colorado winning Motor Trend Truck of the Year and sales vaulting 16% in 2014, consumers have more options than they have had in years in what’s become an awfully competitive segment. Yet pickups are only telling part of the story. Small SUVs are fueling a shift in the industry that is even more noteworthy than cheap gas prices.

2015 Honda CR-V
Source: Honda

Rise of the crossover

U.S. auto consumers hungered for a vehicle with higher clearance and utility without the massive fuel consumption, and automakers have obliged them. Between massive volume sellers like the Honda CR-V (ninth among all U.S. vehicles) and Nissan Rogue (20th), Japanese companies are selling more small crossovers than compact sedans in America.

Truck sales are anyone’s for the taking, and the gains made by the CR-V (up 10% in 2014), the Toyota RAV4 (up 24%), and Rogue (up 25%) say a hot crossover is nearly as valuable as a light-duty pickup. Fiat-Chrysler’s U.S. division sold like gangbusters in 2014. Ram pickups’ huge gains were outdone by combination of the Jeep Grand Cherokee (up 6%), Wrangler (up %), and standard Cherokee (up 1,400%).

Are cheap gas prices really behind the phenomenon? While some element of the industry was obviously influenced by historically low prices in 2014, the efficiency of vehicles like the CR-V (34 miles per gallon highway) and or Subaru Forester (32 highway miles per gallon) have made the issue something of a moot point.

U.S. consumers can have their trucks any way they like them these days. In a segment that starts small and veers towards the priciest vehicles sold in volume, automakers are winning any way you cut it.