King of the road and mar­ket: the light truck

The Hamilton Spectator - - WHEELS -

One of the dom­i­nant trends in the auto in­dus­try over the past four decades has been the steady rise of pick­ups and SUVs as a mar­ket seg­ment.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, pick­ups oc­cu­pied a niche mar­ket among farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties and construction com­pa­nies. They were the pre­ferred mode of trans­porta­tion be­cause pick­ups were in­ex­pen­sive, prac­ti­cal, de­pend­able and ver­sa­tile.

To­day, pick­ups, SUVs and vans (light trucks) now dom­i­nate the au­to­mo­tive land­scape; light trucks have made se­ri­ous in­roads among ur­ban car buy­ers of all ages and back­grounds.

In 2016, sales of pas­sen­ger cars de­clined 7.6 per cent over 2015,

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The pop­u­lar­ity of light trucks can be traced to the late 1980s, when Gen­eral Mo­tors in­tro­duced in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion on its Sierra and Sil­ver­ado pick­ups, which led to im­proved han­dling and a lower ride (since then, other au­tomak­ers have fol­lowed suit).

Prior to in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion, full-size pick­ups boasted front axles that raised the bodies eight to 12 inches (203 to 304 mil­lime­tres) higher than ve­hi­cles with two-wheel drive.

The 1990s gave rise to heavy com­pe­ti­tion in the pickup mar­ket XJUI OFX EFTJHOT GSPN (. 'PSE BOE $ISZTMFS 5PZPUB /JTTBO and Honda have since en­tered the pickup mar­ket as im­por­tant niche play­ers.

In the 1990s, as pick­ups gained pop­u­lar­ity, au­tomak­ers added new fea­tures, such as sport pack­ages, ex­tended cabs, short cabs, greater load and tow­ing ca­pac­ity, in­creased in­te­rior space, more four- and all-wheel drive op­tions, and higher ground clear­ance. 4PNF PG UPEBZ T MVYVSZ QJDLVQT BSF FRVJQQFE XJUI UIF TBNF fea­tures found on lux­ury cars, such as auto dim­ming head­lights, adap­tive cruise con­trol, heated and cooled or ven­ti­lated leather seats, multi-view rear-view cam­eras and other high-tech items.

Other fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the boom in light truck sales have in­cluded lower fuel costs, lower in­ter­est rates, trucks as sta­tus sym­bols and an abun­dance of cus­tomiza­tion op­tions avail­able.

Low fuel costs have meant that con­sumers are spend­ing less money on gas and putting that ex­tra money into buy­ing pricier trucks and SUVs. .BOZ NBOVGBDUVSFST IBWF PGGFSFE MPX lOBODJOH SBUFT JODMVEing zero per cent) in re­cent years, mak­ing trucks and SUVs more af­ford­able.

Auto leas­ing, too, has made a come­back; con­sumers are now leas­ing higher-priced light trucks due to af­ford­able lease rates.

An­other driv­ing force be­hind the surge in light truck sales has been sales to women. From 2010 to 2015, sales of SUVs to women rose 34 per cent com­pared with a 22-per-cent in­crease to men. Dur­ing the same pe­riod, pre­mium small SUVs sales to women rose 177 per cent.

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers have tar­geted women in pro­mot­ing cer­tain SUVs, such as the Buick En­core. Two years ago, Fiat $ISZTMFS "VUPNPCJMFT DPMMBCPSBUFE XJUI coun­try singer Mi­randa Lam­bert to pro- NPUF 3BN USVDLT TQFDJlDBMMZ UBSHFUJOH fe­male cus­tomers. More re­cently, smaller SUVs - which JODMVEF lWF TFBU DSPTTPWFST UP NPEJlFE hatch­backs - have made a big im­pact on the in­dus­try. In my area (Hanover, Ont.), th­ese ve­hi­cles are par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with se­niors, who pre­fer the higher seat­ing for easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity and four-wheel drive for win­ter driv­ing.

Last but not least, pick­ups have be­come a new sta­tus sym­bol among car buy­ers. Even for those who don’t use a pickup for work or haul­ing boats, the idea of own­ing a large, mas­cu­line pickup is hugely ap­peal­ing. It con­veys an im­age of tough­ness.

All in­di­ca­tions point to the light truck sales trend con­tin­u­ing in the years ahead. Of course, a sud­den spike in oil prices or in­ter­est rates could af­fect sales, but pick­ups and SUVs have proved re­mark­ably re­silient in the face of chang­ing mar­ket con­di­tions. e.

This col­umn rep­re­sents the views and val­ues of the TADA. Write to pres­i­dent@tada.ca or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is pres­i­dent of the Tril­lium Au­to­mo­bile Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, ON.

Light trucks have made in­roads among ur­ban car buy­ers. In the first quar­ter of 2017, of the top five best-sell­ing ve­hi­cles in Canada, four were pick­ups.

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