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May 5, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

Pickup Trucks Outsell Sedans in US for First Time

Pickup truck frames sit on the assembly line at the GM plant in Flint, Mich., in February 2019.Pickup truck frames sit on the assembly line at the GM plant in Flint, Mich., in February 2019. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News)

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In all the years Chevy has sold Silverados and Ford trafficked in F-150s, few in Detroit ever dreamed the day would come that pickups would outsell passenger cars.

But the highly lucrative truck segment dominated by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV did just that last month. Pickups beat cars by more than 17,000 units in April, according to market researcher Autodata Corp.

It is a remarkable turn of events for an industry that has long been reliant on trucks as cash cows, but never to this degree. Just five years ago, cars outsold pickups by more than half a million units in a single month. Detroit began ditching sedans the following year and hasn’t looked back. Full-size truck models alone were more than 40% of GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s sales in April, according to Evercore ISI.

Trucks outsold cars in the U.S. last month for the first time.

A few factors contribute to the development. Detroit’s deliveries — pickups and otherwise — are concentrated more so in middle America than the coastal states that introduced some of the earliest and most aggressive shutdown orders. Trucks also were bolstered by 0% financing offers, some of which stretched loans out for as long as seven years, RBC Capital Markets analyst Joe Spak wrote in a report.

The CEO of Fiat Chrysler, which reported first-quarter earnings May 5 in the midst of a seven-week shutdown of its North American auto plants, told investors its vehicle inventory in the U.S. is running low, particularly for some pickup models.

“There’s certain configurations that will be running short,” CEO Mike Manley said on an earnings call, adding he expected truck sales to outperform other vehicles again this month. “That’s reflected in the number of dealer orders we’ve received in the last few weeks that are just waiting for our plants to restart.”

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