Trucks at Work
Can the premium pickup truck push be sustained?

Can the premium pickup truck push be sustained?

It’s no secret that pickup trucks are a hot-selling item in the U.S. market; always have been and probably always will be.

One reason, of course, is their simple utilitarian structure – it’s a ready-to-get-to-work vehicle, with a wide-open bed for hauling all manner of gear, typically sporting four-wheel drive for off-road operation, along with the ability to tow big loads, too.

[That being said, some believe vans are poised to give pickups stiffer competition in those areas as they offer a completely-enclosed work space. Mathias Geisen, general manager for product management and marketing for Mercedes Benz Vans, is one such advocate as this story shows.]

Yet pickup truck OEMs also realize that there’s a lot of money to be made by offering customized pickup truck packages [go here, here and here for just a few high-end examples] and so continue to roll out more “from-the-factory” customized and premium priced models to gain more of those dollars.

Take for example the new special-edition “Night” package recently rolled out by Ram Trucks – a division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) – for the 2017 Ram 1500 pickup; a straight-from-the-factory customized truck than builds on the Ram 1500 Rebel model introduced last year.

Burning rubber in a 2017 Ram 1500 Night model.

“The Ram 1500 Night fills the growing customer demand for factory-custom trucks,” noted Mike Manley, head of the Ram brand for FCA – Global, in a statement. “Truck enthusiasts want vehicles that define their personality and style. The new Ram Night package builds upon the Ram Sport adding ‘black-out’ details that custom truck enthusiasts revere.”

[Check out this gallery for some of tweaks Ram is making to its family of trucks and vans for the 2017 model year.]

Those “black-out” specs include the wheels, front grille and badges to help “pump up” the “bold visual presence” of the Ram’s monochromatic performance package, he added.

Here are a few other details regarding the new Ram “Night” package:

  • It is available on Regular Cab, Quad Cab and Crew Cab 1500 Sport models, in both two- and four-wheel drive, long and short bed lengths.
  • It’s offered with a choice of either a3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 gasoline engine.
  • A wide variety of options and upgrades are available (adding to the truck’s sticker price, of course) that include the lighted and lockable Ram Box cargo management system with adjustable tie-down cleats and dual-purpose bed extender/divider, Sport performance hood and Black running boards.
  • Additional Mopar performance parts options include a cat-back exhaust and cold-air intake.
  • Paint schemes for the 2017 Ram 1500 Night edition are Bright Silver Metallic, Bright White, Brilliant Black, Flame Red and Granite Crystal Metallic.

Production of the 2017 Ram Night is slated to start early in the fourth quarter of this year at FCA’s Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Warren, MI, with pricing to be announced closer to the on-sale date – and you can bet it won’t come cheap either.

The new Ram 1500 Night package offers 20-in. by 9-in. gloss black aluminum wheels mated to P275/60R20 black sidewall all-season tires.

That’s one reason why the average retail price of a new light vehicle keeps climbing, hitting $30,942 this past August – a record for the month and surpassing the previous high of $30,061 set in August of last year, according to data tracked by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

Indeed, trucks accounted for some 59.6% of new-vehicle retail sales by late August, up from 57.5% in the same month a year ago, with the “truck share” of light vehicle sales up near the all-time record of 60.6% set back in July this year, the firms noted.

To get an idea of just how many trucks those percentages translate into, J.D. Power noted that retail light vehicle sales topped out around 1.26 million units in August, while total light vehicle sales were projected to hit 1.49 million units.

Even though the firm stressed that retail sales year-to-date through August is expected to be down 1.2% compared to the same stretch in 2015 – with total sales expected to be up a smidge at 0.5% when comparing those two time periods – we’re still talking sales north of 600,000 light truck units here. That’s big money.

But can this frenetic – and expensive – pace be sustained in the U.S. light vehicle market?

Black-bezel bi-functional projector headlamps with LED [light emitting diode] marker lights and black-bezel tail lamps to match forward lighting decorate the Ram 1500 Night edition.

“Following 66 consecutive months of retail sales growth that began in September 2010, we’ve seen four declines in the past six months, and this … pullback in August will be a disappointment for the industry,” noted John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power, in a statement.

“Softening retail sales amid low interest rates, relatively cheap gas and automakers pushing more aggressive incentives may be an indicator that further growth in this cycle will be difficult,” he stressed. “As momentum slows, the industry will need to be cautious to balance volume and margin, as incentives are close to record levels.”

Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, added that the light vehicle industry faces an “uphill struggle” to match last year’s performance as it heads into the final months of 2016.

“With mixed economic signals, it certainly looks like U.S. auto sales may have peaked in 2015,” he said in a statement. “However, it is important to focus on the sustainable high level of demand. Peak does not mean doom and gloom, and while the industry faces risk, it is not destined for a pullback.”

We’ll see if and when that occurs – and if that knocks the wind out of the premium pickup segment’s sails.

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