Remember, trucks make the bucks

Automotive News | January 7, 2013 - 12:01 am EST

Car sales rose 18 percent in 2012, twice the gain of light trucks.

But trucks are where the money is.

Toyota Motor Corp. can feel good about the 73 percent rise in Prius sales, but good feelings don't pay the dividends. Nor do profits (if any) on imported Priuses in the United States.

If you want to talk dollars in the bank, you're talking trucks. And there, Toyota has a valid reason to feel good.

Sales of the full-sized Toyota Tundra pickup -- made in the United States and therefore much less exposed to dollar-yen swings -- jumped 23 percent in 2012. Its share of the pickup segment, including both full-sized and compacts, rose 0.7 point to 5.3 percent.

Sales of Chrysler Group's Ram pickup rose at a slightly slower pace, 20 percent, but from a larger base. The Ram's pickup market share climbed 1.7 points to 15.4 percent. That's huge.

The other big pickup gainer was Ford Motor Co.'s F series, up 10 percent, which added 1.2 points of share, to 33.9 percent. Cha-ching.

In contrast, the aging Chevrolet Silverado lost 1.2 points of share, to 22.0 percent.

Sales grew faster in the much more crowded premium and compact crossover segments.

Nineteen compact crossovers (and two discontinued models) vied for sales of nearly 1.7 million units, up 17 percent. Excluding the discontinued nameplates, only three had lower sales, with the Kia Sportage turning in the worst performance.

The Ram pickup's U.S. market share climbed 1.7 points to 15.4 percent in 2012.

Photo credit: Larry P. Vellequette

The Honda CR-V was the segment leader, up a hefty 29 percent to 281,652, or roughly 12,000 fewer units than the Ram pickup. The Mazda CX-5, which went from 0 in 2011 to 43,319 in 2012, made an impressive debut.

Sales of premium crossovers climbed 23 percent to just over half a million units. The Lexus RX again led the segment, with a 15 percent rise. The segment's top gainer was the Land Rover Evoque, nearly quadrupling sales to 8,901, from 2,244.

Only three of 23 premium crossovers posted lower sales: the Volvo XC90, Mercedes-Benz R class and the discontinued Saab 9-4X. Two of those had severe problems at the corporate level; the R class has nobody to blame but its designers.

SUVs were supposed to go away as environmentally conscious consumers switched to electric vehicles. Not so fast.

Sales of mid-sized SUVs, such as the hot-selling Jeep Grand Cherokee, revved 21 percent to 267,578.

But large SUVs had a rough year, falling 9 percent.

James B. Treece is industry editor for Automotive NewsJames B. Treece is industry editor for Automotive News

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