Lower Gasoline Prices Lifting Truck Sales

The recent softening of gasoline prices may have a positive ripple effect on pickup truck and SUV sales.

A J.D. Power & Associates study on owner retention released yesterday suggests that truck and SUV owners who are shopping for new vehicles are returning to those kinds of vehicles, rather than opting for more fuel-efficient models.

According to real-time transaction data culled from the consultancy's Power Information Network, owner retention rates for large pickups and large and mid-sized SUVs are all up for a seven-week period beginning in mid-August.

Those three vehicle categories constitute about 25 percent of new-vehicle sales in the U.S., according to the consultancy--and include such models as Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer and Expedition, as well as the F-150 pickup truck and Nissan Armada.

During the latest period studied, gasoline prices dropped to an average of $2.66 per gallon, versus an average of $3.04 per gallon for the prior seven-week period.



During that earlier summer period, 65.1 percent of pickup owners, 37.2 percent of large-SUV owners, and 23.5 percent of mid-sized SUV owners traded in for vehicles in those segments.

The more recent seven-week period saw those numbers nudge upward to 68.9 percent, 39.6 percent and 26.9 percent, respectively.

Tom Libby, senior director, industry analysis at the consultancy, said it's too early to call the loyalty numbers a bellwether. "We need more time, but in the short term, it's one measure that shows some strength in these segments; and they are important because they are high profit and high volume segments," he said.

Still, in September, overall SUV and truck sales were down; luxury and full-sized SUV sales were down 7 percent, SUV sales overall were down around 10 percent and pickup sales were down 3 percent, according to Car Concepts, Los Angeles.

"Sales haven't improved," said Todd Turner, president of the consultancy, but the hemorrhage has slowed. "We knew [pickup sales] were going to plateau because the market comprises people who have to have a pickup for utility, regardless of gasoline prices."

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