Ford Pickups
April 19, 2006 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I was just reading about how those massive, gas-hogging Ford F-350 etc pickup trucks are the bestselling "cars" in the United States, by a huge margin. While this seems absurd during $3 a gallon gas, I wonder when this started becoming the case that pickup trucks were the top sellers. This is just anecdotal, but it seems to me that in the 1970s the only people who drove the then quite smaller pickup trucks were people who used them for work. I can't quite believe there are that many independent contractors in the US who need to buy these outsized vehicles. As they suffer (most seemingly quite rightfully) at the pump, does anyone know where to find historical car sales data -- i.e., when did Ford pickups become the most popular car in America?
posted by dearleader to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total)
Answering part of your question:

Wikipedia entry on Ford F-series pickups

A luxury Lariat trim was introduced for 1978. That same year, the F-series became the best-selling vehicle in America, a position it has continued to hold since.
posted by junesix at 2:00 PM on April 19, 2006

According to an article I just found, the Ford F-series has been the best selling automobile in the US since the early 80s.


First, you can use one for private and work uses. Many people claim them as a business expense, which is more difficult to do with a similarly priced car.

Second, you can buy them with a wide range of configurations to meet a wide range of needs.

Third, a pickup with no options costs relatively little money, so they can be a good deal.

Fourth, they have a cowboy image that satisfies the buyer's fantasy of being rugged and pioneering.
posted by driveler at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2006

This doesn't really answer your question, but one of the reasons the big ones got so popular is that there is a fat tax-break to small businesses that opt for larger when purchasing a vehicle.
posted by peptide at 2:03 PM on April 19, 2006

Most of the pick-up drivers I know use the excuse that they can make twice-annual trips to Home Depot or the landscaping place or what not.

When I point out that it'd be cheaper just to rent a truck on those occasions, they usually switch to "I like trucks", which is a perfectly valid reason, in my opinion.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:08 PM on April 19, 2006

Think of all the fleet vehicles owned by all sorts of businesses like construction, maintenance, utility, and agriculture. That's a lot of vehicles and a big percentage are pickups.
posted by TimeFactor at 2:08 PM on April 19, 2006

The whole Bob Villa do it yourself thing among professional men should not be ignored. Even if they aren't Bob Villa a lot are convinced they need a truck should time arise where they need to suddenly haul construction equipment.
posted by geoff. at 2:09 PM on April 19, 2006

I'd be surprised if the F-150 didn't comprise the bulk of sales of the F series. The 150 isn't quite as gigantic as the F-250 and 350, but the 2004 redsign of the 150 certainly bulked it up.

I couldn't find any lists newer than 2003, but coming at #2 and #3 are the Chevy and Dodge pickups.

Reporting from Missouri, the pickup trucks are pretty much everywhere. It's pretty suprising how many have some sort of company logo on the side, too.
posted by zsazsa at 2:13 PM on April 19, 2006

Yes, several factors:

--Business tax break, as above. Buy a full-sized pickup, pay no taxes for that year (deduct the full cost of the vehicle from your income immediately). Basically a big tax giveaway to the red states and domestic auto manufacturers.
--There are only five models of large pickup, and two of them are Japanese, which no real 'Merican would be caught dead in. So pickup buyers have a choice of three vehicles. On the other hand, there are lots of models of cars. So if 50 people each buy a car and a pickup, they might have all bought different cars but they've got a lot of the same pickups. There were 5.6 million regular cars sold in the U.S. last year and only about 2 million pickups, but the pickups are concentrated in only a few models so they are the best selling models.

Pickups (and SUVs!) certainly are popular, but if there were a few more models of pickup available, no particular pickup model would likely be at the top of the best-selling list.
posted by jellicle at 2:19 PM on April 19, 2006

I don't know if the tax break is a primary reason people buy them, because the same tax break applies in the whole US but they aren't popular everwhere.
posted by smackfu at 2:31 PM on April 19, 2006

It isn't really about the limited models available. In 2004, Ford sold 2.7 million vehicles of all types (under the Ford brand). About 940,000 of them were F series trucks. The best selling car was less than 250,000 sold. All cars Ford sold added together were only 684,000. Trucks are extremely popular!
posted by Lame_username at 2:35 PM on April 19, 2006

Don't forget the government. Your federal, state, and municipal agencies purchase a lot of pickups. Pretty much any agency that has employees in the field (ie. energy, water, sanitation, fire, police, forestry) will buy pickups even if there isn't an obvious need for a pickup over a sedan.

A friend of mine works for the water department and he frequently has to drive out in the office pickup to get water samples in small vials. Not exactly pickup-necessary work.
posted by junesix at 3:14 PM on April 19, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed, please stay on topic or at least explain *why* you're derailing the thread
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:54 PM on April 19, 2006

The $25k tax break applies to anything over 3 tons - the normal F-150 does not count but that's not the reason for its popularity.

First, Ford has smartly named about 15 different variations all called the F-150 from a 6-cylinder manual with two doors to the high end which probably tops out at $55k if you add everything. GM for instance splits their pickup line between Chevrolet, GMC and recently Cadillac even though they are essentially the same truck AND they are called a variety of names so they do all count as different trucks - so Ford has put all their eggs into one basket named the F-150.

That's the main foundation of F-150's sales numbers but of course, if they were not popular, it wouldn't really matter.

For many people, pickup trucks started out as essentially working "cars," you needed a huge bed to throw stuff into or drag stuff out of.

They started to gain in popularity because they presented a macho look for the same amount of money. Even today, a pickup truck (like the full sized like the F-150) costs about the same as a 4-door sedan - which seems less macho and more "sedate' than pickup which coveys the feeling you're about to go bust some bronco or pull out a tree stump and haul it away.

You do ride higher and you can see the road better. But other than people who needed for the job, most people past the age of 25 were not buying them so gradually they got more luxurious so they were not really trucks anymore - and then as people moved to buying SUV's, they too got more luxurous and the auto makers basically neglected the sedan market because the trend was SUV's/trucks so why fight it - for the most important reason - profit. The Us automakers were making up to $15k per truck/SUV about 5 years ago ... and in the sedan market - in that segment, they had to compete with the Japanese for quality and value, with the Europeans for performance, handling and luxury and with the Koreans on cost - and basically losing on all fronts so instead of sitting down and trying to design a world beater sedan, they just rolled the dice on bigger/badder SUV's culminating in the Ford Expedition and the GM Hummer.

Now, in two short years, the oil world is topsy turvy and they are finally coming out with better sedans ... meanwhile they have to keep the factories humming so the F-150's and other trucks/SUV's still roll out and instead of $5 to $15k profit, they'll take less - most UScars have rebates and financing incentives to keep them moving out so you when you go the dealer and he says you can have a F150 for $4k off and $299 a month ... you think okay, I'll just use a little less electricity & water this month, I can swing it ... after all, I might need it to haul concrete pillars or rescue people from a flood zone ... or use a 2-ton to carry 14-lbs of groceries ... either way ... yippe-kai-ya .... (you know the rest :-)
posted by jbelkin at 4:10 PM on April 19, 2006

There are only five models of large pickup, and two of them are Japanese, which no real 'Merican would be caught dead in.

Things aren't that simple for those of us that actually need a truck. If all things were equal, I'd choose Toyota but their specs aren't up to snuff compared to the Chevy 3500 I own. The Toyota has a maximum payload of only 2025 LBs and towing capacity of 7100 LBs compare to the Chevy's 4058 LB payload and 15,500 LB towing capacity.

I exceed the Toyota's payload cap 2-3 times a week and towing capacity 12-18 times per year. It's a good choice for the person who doesn't need a real truck, but can't cut it for those of use that do.
posted by buggzzee23 at 4:11 PM on April 19, 2006

The $25k tax break applies to anything over 3 tons - the normal F-150 does not count but that's not the reason for its popularity.

Isn't that deduction based on the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating? The lightest F-150 has a GVWR of 6500LBs.
posted by buggzzee23 at 4:24 PM on April 19, 2006

Maybe not quite what you are looking for.... but women buy a heck of a lot of trucks. This article talks a bit about the Ford F-250.
I drive a truck and so does my mom and my sister. I know mine gets great gas mileage.
posted by nimsey lou at 5:33 PM on April 19, 2006

I personally bought a small pickup as my first-ever new vehicle, because the price was about $2000 lower than the cheapest new car that I found acceptable.
posted by davejay at 5:44 PM on April 19, 2006

Two words: Fleet Sales
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:22 PM on April 19, 2006

I have an F-150, but I balance it out by owning two fuel-efficient motorcycles. When moving, I can haul lots of stuff, trailer the bikes, or even throw them in the truck bed. I do a lot of theater and so on, which makes the bed handy for moving larger props and furniture. It's hella inefficient fuel-wise (15-20 mpg with the tonneau cover), which is again why I have the motorcycles (40-60mpg) for going anywhere else (I ride mostly all-weather; no ice, pls). And yet, I got the F-150 specifically for moving the motorcycles around. Go figure! The SuperCab model that I own has two suicide doors on either side and seats 4+ comfortably, so it was really all-around the best vehicle for the price.

Can't speak for anyone else, though.
posted by Eideteker at 7:41 PM on April 19, 2006

I guess all comments critical of gas guzzling get removed then. even if they are just. Fair enough.
posted by A189Nut at 12:56 AM on April 20, 2006

Going back to the historical sales data - it looks like the 1978 date was when the F-150 became the best-selling pickup truck in America, and it became the best-selling vehicle in 1982 (
I couldn't find best-selling vehicle data going back very far, (2000, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05) but here's a nifty graph by vehicle type going back to 1975 and an earlier version with slightly different categories, plus there are lots of other interesting stats at that same site including "Personal vs. Business Use of Pickup Trucks"
posted by rjd at 2:05 AM on April 20, 2006

I drive a pickup (S10) because I, and a lot of other men, do not fit comfortably into a regular sized car.
posted by Raybun at 5:08 AM on April 20, 2006

Derailing because I thought it was funny...

Nimsey Lou: Favorite bumper sticker spotted recently: "Silly boys, trucks are for girls!"
posted by SpecialK at 7:53 AM on April 20, 2006

Many Americans like big vehicles for the interior room. You almost haven't been able to buy a big car since the mid 70s and you haven't been able to buy a decent big car since 1971 when serious pollution regulations kicked in. The only other choice is a pickup which has looser government controls and vans which were hugely popular in the 70s.

Dodge (and Fargo) started upscaling pickups in '72 with their Club Cab Adventurer series which could be had with such conviences as A/C, power steering, power windows, power locks and wood interior accents (and a non smog 383/440). Heady stuff for 1972.
posted by Mitheral at 4:59 PM on April 20, 2006

Here are some reasons that no one has considered yet:

The CAFE regulations. Cars must average 27 mpg. Trucks only need to get 20.

The NHTSA, which administers the CAFE regulations, also maintains strict crash-safety guidelines for cars - and very lax ones for light trucks.

The bottom line is, when you spend $20,000 on a car, you get $8,000 worth of car and $12,000 worth of fuel economy, emissions, and safety engineering (with the compromises and workarounds those entail.) When you spend $20,000 on a truck, you get $20,000 worth of truck; this truck guzzles gas, pollutes the atmosphere and kills you in a crash, but it has leather seats and a 6-CD changer.

I'm making these numbers up, but they're not that far off the mark, especially for the case of lower-end vehicles.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:35 PM on April 20, 2006

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