DALLAS -- Ford has the F-150 King Ranch trim and a Dallas Cowboys special edition. Ram launched this past spring the 1500 Yellow Rose of Texas edition. And at the State Fair of Texas starting here this week, Nissan will unveil its Texas Titan.
It's not just a stereotype: Texans love their pickup trucks, buying about twice as many as Californians. Pickups account for nearly 19 percent of all vehicles purchased in Texas this year, compared with about 12 percent nationwide. And the state serves automakers as a testing ground and inspiration for new pickup concepts.
The intensity of that love affair is being put to the test, though, as the state's economy softens, dragged down by Houston's contracting energy sector and a strong dollar weighing on the state's sizable export sector. While Texas usually outpaces the nation economically, the first half of the year marked the first time this century that Texas added jobs more slowly than the U.S. as a whole, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
The effects show up in sales of light- and heavy-duty pickups, with new registrations down 3.7 percent statewide in 2015 and down 6.5 percent this year through July, according to data from IHS Markit, following three years of robust gains. The declines are steeper in the Houston area.
But the competition for buyers has only intensified, reflecting pockets of growth and opportunity amid the market's broader decline.
Steve McDowell, president of InfoNation Inc., which publishes the TexAuto Facts report, points to relative strength in Dallas' diversified economy, the Austin technology hub and the tourism economy that powers San Antonio.
"Pickups tend to track our construction activity more than just oil and gas," he said. Also, automaker incentives have been rising for several months. Low gasoline prices, while causing pain in the oil patch, are otherwise good for pickup sales.
Mitchell Dale, co-owner of McRee Ford in Dickinson, Texas, just south of Houston, said the retail sector is holding up better than fleet sales. Models such as the King Ranch and the Lariat "are top-of-the-line vehicles, and we sell a high mix of those," he said. "That market has not been impacted by the oil prices."