GM’s announcement that they’re closing the Pontiac (the city, not the defunct brand, in Michigan) truck plant after 37 years puts a big fat “!” at the end of news that truck sales have fallen off to their lowest point since Reagan was in office. High margin pickup trucks were the bread-n-butter of Detroit’s strategy since
car buyers defected to the Japanese in the ’80s and ’90s, making up 15% of all light passenger vehicles being sold. That percentage has now dropped to 10% of the market, and unless something drastic happens those numbers are expected to slide further.
The bottom line is that the customer demographics are shifting; it’s professionals like contractors and construction workers who are becoming the bulk of the buyers, rather than the daily-driver “lifestyle” suburban buyers that flocked to conspicuously consume big trucks in the past 15 years. Case in point, the Cadillac Escalade EXT pictured above – completely worthless as a work truck, it’s all “lifestyle” all the time. And that’s why sales of the EXT have dropped off of a cliff, from a high of 13,000 units in 2002 to the insignificant 4,700 units sold last year. The days of cheap gas (and the attendant gas-powered toys) are over, at least for now, and it looks like the biggest casualty will be domestic automakers’ bottom lines.