Truck lure sweeps the West

Truck sales are sweeping the country, a trend underscored by the fact that Chevrolet and Ford trucks outsold cars of the same name in 25 states in calendar 1985.

Projected on a map, the sales pattern is a testimony of national interest, with truck leadership over cars sweeping across the West into the Eastern U.S. Not only are 21 of the 25 states linked together geographically, but they also encompass nearly all of the ares west of the Mississippi River.

California barely missed becoming part of the select group of states in 1985 as Ford Div. and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Motor Div. dealers sold 217,244 trucks to 227,092 cars there, but the narrow margin suggests that California could capitulate in 1986.

Indeed, in at least seven more states Chevy/Ford truck sales could exceed cars in 1986, because they came so close to doing so in 1985. Ward's analysis of recently released '85 registration data compiled by R.L. Polk & Co. shows that in Maine, Ford/Chevy cars edged trucks 17,137 to 14,611, in New Hampshire 18,998 to 16,244, in North Carolina 70,589 to 61,716, in South Carolina 34,882 to 30,08, in Tennessee 50,873 to 49,457, in Hawaii 6,179 to 5,123, and in Minnesota 56,958 to 53,370.

Ford Motor Co. makes no bones about the popularity of trucks, saying "the probability that Ford dealers in the U.S. will sell mroe trucks than cars in 1986 only adds further emphasis to this important part of our North American Automotive Operations." Indeed, at a crucial time Executive Vice President Robert A. Lutz last May was appointed head of Ford Truck Operations. He had been chairman and chief executive offficer of Ford of Europe Inc.

During January-April this year, Ford Div. dealers sold 422,229 trucks to 433,288 cars, and Chrysler Corp.'s Dodge Div. dealers posted a 142,740-unit truck count that edged 131,044 for cars. At Chevrolet, car sales of 567,255 easily topped 399,631 trucks. However, there's little doubt that trucks, which include the hot-selling vans, have captured the imagination of the American public and have given Ford dealers some added ammunition to battle Chevrolet dealers.

"The future growth of this major profit center (trucks) for Ford bodes well for the company's success in the basic automotive business that is the cornerstone of the company's strength," says Ford.

Interest is so high, in fact, that Chrysler Corp. -- which almost quit the truck business in the early 1980s -- in early May dedicated its $500-million Dodge City truck plant in Warren, MI, and GM was getting ready to launch pickup truck production at a new plant in Fort Wayne, IN. In response, Ford plans to double-shift its Norfolf, VA, truck plant soon.

The U.S. truck market is extremely important. On a combined basis, Ford and Chevy dealers in 1985 took 55% of industry truck sales including imports, almost twice their combined 27.1% of car sales.

Whether Chevy or Ford wins the coveted truck sales race in 1986 may well depend upon how many car buyers switch to trucks. In entire 1985, the two key Ford and Chevy divisions (based on registrations) sold 2,502,769 trucks, but 38.2% of that volume, or nearly a million units, came from the 25 states where they outsold cars 955,842 to 715,711.

In the remaining 25 states Ford/Chevy car sales exceeded trucks, 2,226,467 to 1,546,927, but it seemed that Ford and Chevy car buyers in at least a half dozen of those states were ready to tip the scales from cars to trucks in 1986.

During January-April, industry truck sales were clocked at 98% of year-ago's record pace, providing ample basis for such predictions.

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