By Bob Blake
A car salesman once told me, “Doc…when it’s a slow Saturday afternoon and you haven’t sold a single car all day, you can usually sell a pickup truck!” Recent sales numbers prove his point. Automakers sold 2.7 million new pickups last year, 5.9 percent higher than a year ago. One out of five American vehicles sold was a pickup!
Recent sales of mid-size pickups were impressive. The 2015 numbers for Ford’s F-series barely edged out the General Motors brands. New truck sales remain high because Americans keep their pickups. Ford CEO Mark Fields recently said that “50% of the pickups in the U.S. fleet are 10 years old or older” AND…many remain operational after 30 years.
For 40 consecutive years sales of the lowly pickup truck have lead the overall truck market. America’s torrid love affair with light trucks continues!
The auto/truck business did not start that way. Ingenious farmers and merchants simply strapped crates and baskets to their Model T. A few added wagon beds behind the single seat. World War I was the ultimate test ground for shuffling men and materials and these lessons found their way into civilian life.
After the Great War, Ford built a Model T Runabout with a metal bed, tailgate and stiffer springs. Other manufacturers quickly followed. Dodge Corporation countered with their beefed-up Merchant Express, which resembled a modern pickup truck.
A little known North Carolina company, Corbitt of New Burn, N.C. was a major truck producer during World War I. From 1915- 17, they built many of the 227,000 American units for the U.S. and its allies. Corbitt was also a major builder during W.W. II and exported many of their trucks to Russia under the Lend-Lease program.
During the Great Depression years of the 1930s, small trucks assisted many of the Dust Bowl folks eke out a living and carry their meager possessions. During that period Ford added a strong V-8 engine with a screaming 65 hp. to their Model “BB.”
Military personnel home from W.W. II appreciated the rugged frames, suspensions and the four-wheel drive found in Ford and Willys jeeps. Dodge offered their tough Power Wagon in 1946 as a civilian spinoff.
International Harvester Company built an innovative 1957 three-door vehicle, the Travelette that doubled as a pickup and a people carrier. It offered a 4×4 drive with a three-door cab and resembled the now popular Chevrolet Suburban.
Diesels eventually found their way into the light truck market. A recent U.S. Department of Transportation study, however, revealed diesel engines power less than 2% of light vehicles (under 10,000 pounds) but over 70% of medium-heavy vehicles.
The future? It certainly includes improved engines, lighter weight, and higher payload. Ford recently spent six years and a billion dollars on an aluminum bodied F-150. The stakes are high as the F-series accounts for 31% of their North American sales and much of their profit.
For sure, the pickup is NOT going away!