Five years from now the U.S. truck world will have a much stronger Japanese flavor:
While the Big 3's hold on full-sized pickups and big sport-utilities seems secure, the Japanese offensive in other light-truck segments will hamper the Big 3's hopes of cutting back on incentives without giving up market share.
Sales of Japanese-badged trucks in the United States have doubled in the past five years. Last year, more than 1.7 million were sold. Their plans for new products and factory expansions suggest Japanese brands could pick up another 850,000 truck sales in the next five years.
Debuts at last week's New York auto show hint at what's to come:
At the same time, their North American manufacturing arms are spending at least $3 billion to boost production of trucks. Nissan is investing $1.5 billion to bring on a new plant for three, perhaps four, trucks they've never built, plus a V-8 engine plant to power them. (See story, Page 3.)
The scenario assumes Japan's automakers will succeed at a dozen or so current efforts to launch a flurry of truck products. But given that little the group has touched in the past two decades has failed, it's clear the Big 3's grip on America's truck market will continue to be under siege.
"What they are doing, very simply, is creating more products for customers who are already loyal," said Mike Robinet, director of forecasting services for CSM Worldwide Inc. in Northville, Mich. "And they are doing it in a low-risk manner. Many of these new light-truck products are unibody construction, as opposed to the Big 3's full-frame truck construction. A unibody platform enables them to move more easily from one product to another - from an SUV to a sedan to a minivan."