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Chevrolet, Ford, Fiat Chrysler continue pickup truck wars

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/3/2019 Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press
a close up of a suitcase: Cowboy boot-style on the seats of a 2019 Ram Laramie Longhorn pickup.

Ram or Silverado?

Research

If the third quarter of 2019 is an indication, it's Ram.

The race for second place in the truck wars — Ford's F-Series pickups still lead — has been a story all year, but now the third quarter is in the books, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has more to crow about. GM, however, sells more total trucks, thanks, in part, to its GMC Sierra line, which was up solidly for the quarter. 

For full-size pickups — Detroit's golden geese — Ram sales were up 14%, from 142,044 to 161,635; GM's Silverado saw a 16% increase, to 155,482 from 133,329; while Ford's F-Series actually fell 6%, from 227,880 to 214,176. Fiat Chrysler and GM saw total sales rise for the quarter, while Ford's dropped.

"Whatever the outcome in any one month or quarter, based on what incentives and promotions are offered, the long run trend is for Ram to permanently surpass Chevrolet into second place,” said Jon Gabrielsen, a market analyst and auto adviser.

A GM spokesman, however, emphasized the company's total full-size truck lineup.

“Retail sales of the Chevrolet Silverado are exceptionally strong, and when combined with record third-quarter retail sales of the GMC Sierra, we have the industry's leading truck franchise,” said spokesman Tom Henderson.

GM, Fiat Chrysler and Ford, in a move expected to be followed by others, now release their sales results quarterly, which they did Wednesday. The sales release is unfolding as the nationwide UAW strike against GM is in its third week. And the impact on the company is only expected to grow.

"The real story for the auto industry will be told in the coming weeks as Chevy and GMC dealers (run) low on pickup trucks to sell, with the UAW strike against General Motors leading the company to idle the plant in Mexico that makes the Silverado and Sierra," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader. "Dwindling inventory comes at a time of year when pickup truck sales are strong, and at a time when GM is in launch mode with its full array of trucks. This will put the Chevrolet Silverado even further behind the popular Ram in sales."

a truck cake sitting on top of a car: Nissan introduces a "Star Wars" themed Nissan Titan custom truck during the auto trade show AutoMobility L.A. at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Nov. 30, 2017.

Krebs said fewer truck sales will affect profits at GM in both the third and fourth quarters "since pickup trucks account for the bulk of income."

Gabrielsen, however, noted that third-quarter sales results saw limited impact from the strike because of timing.

“The strike only covered the last 18% of the calendar days in the quarter, and GM surely overproduced and overshipped/sold vehicles to its dealers in the lead-up to the contract deadline in order to maximize the dealers inventory buffer in the event of a strike,” he said.

George Augustaitis, director of industry analytics at CarGurus, noted that despite the UAW strike’s longevity, GM has a “healthy supply of inventory for the short term.” Using information from Motor Intelligence, he said almost all of GM’s top-selling vehicles had more than 75 days’ supply through September.

“General Motors is showing ample inventory across its brands as the third quarter comes to a close, but that only stands for the near future. If the labor negotiations have not advanced over the next few weeks, they could face supply issues heading into the vital holiday shopping season,” Augustaitis said.

a car parked on the side of a road: The Hyundai Santa Cruz crossover truck concept is unveiled during the North American International Auto Show

General Motors

GM’s sales were up 6.3% for the quarter, from 694,638 to 738,638 vehicles.

All GM brands showed improvement for the quarter — Buick up 10.2%, Cadillac 7.2%, Chevrolet 4.6% and GMC 11.4%. The Blazer SUV, a new addition compared with the same time last year, added 20,312 vehicles.

Cars were generally down for GM -- the Chevy Camaro was off by 15%, for instance -- but the electric Bolt, although at a relatively low volume of 4,830, was up 22.3%.

Ford

Ford saw its third-quarter sales fall 4.9%, from 609,934 vehicles to 580,251. The bright spots were trucks, up 8.8% — F-Series, notably, was down 6% — and the Lincoln brand, up 11.7%. Ford is in the midst of its transition away from cars, and the results in that category, down 31% for the Ford brand (7.4% for the Lincoln brand), showed.

Ford-brand SUVs, led by a more than 29,000-vehicle decline in Explorer sales, were down 13.2%.

The Free Press reported last month on substantial delivery issues for the 2020 Explorer.

Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a conference call Wednesday described an "ambitious" launch for the SUV and said the company knew it would mean downtime. But he predicted strong future sales.

Within the truck category, Ford’s midsize Ranger added a new source of sales for the company compared with a year ago, and commercial vans and heavy trucks had strong results.

“As planned, this year is a transitional one for Ford as we move from our sedan lineup to an all-new winning portfolio of trucks and SUVs. Ranger sales continue to accelerate and the all-new Explorer and Escape are hitting dealer showrooms now. Our truck, van and commercial business continued to be strong in the third quarter, with record van sales and continued F-Series sales leadership,“ LaNeve said in a news release.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Sales at Fiat Chrysler were up slightly, from 564,507 this time last year to 565,034 in the third quarter of 2019, thanks to strong Ram sales (the brand, which includes ProMaster Vans, was up 15% overall). All other brands were down — Jeep 2%, Chrysler 23%, Dodge 4% (Charger and Challenger were up solidly, however), Fiat 38% and Alfa Romeo 27%. Fiat Chrysler did not release results for U.S. Maserati sales.

Reid Bigland, FCA’s head of U.S. sales and the Ram brand, said the future looks bright.

“Lower interest rates, a stable economy and consumer enthusiasm bolster our belief that new vehicle sales in the U.S. are heading for a strong finish,” Bigland said in a news release. “For us, vehicles like the new Gladiator, our Ram pickups and Dodge muscle cars are pulling customers into showrooms. Our customers are also choosing to purchase higher-trim levels or extra features which are increasing our transaction prices.”

Despite the glowing assessment of some industry leaders, however, economists have expressed wariness, even with low unemployment and gas prices. Aside from the strike, trade war concerns, vehicle affordability worries and a potential economic slowdown loom. 

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Chevrolet, Ford, Fiat Chrysler continue pickup truck wars

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