General Motors has reaped huge rewards from the market's shift, more than doubling its third-quarter net income and posting the smallest year-over-year decline among full-line automakers in October. GM is cashing in on its lineup of large SUVs, gaining 10 points of share in that segment vs. a year ago, even if total sales don't quite break a record this year.
"Key fundamentals like job security, rising personal incomes, low fuel prices and low interest rates continue to provide the environment for a very healthy U.S. auto industry," Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, said in a statement last week. "The U.S. auto industry is well positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels for the foreseeable future."
Ford, another big truck seller, also is headed toward one of its largest-ever annual profits, though recall costs and the launch of its redesigned Super Duty pickups took big bites out of third-quarter earnings. Fiat Chrysler, whose U.S. sales this year are 85 percent light trucks, has raised its 2016 operating profit forecast twice this year.
Nissan North America, whose parent reports earnings this week, also is taking advantage. Its U.S. car sales were down 1.8 percent through October, while its light trucks were up 13 percent. After a 2.2 percent decline in October -- compared with a 5.9 percent drop for the industry -- Nissan's U.S. share for 2016 is 9 percent, a record for the automaker.
"Our strategy has been this is the year of the truck for us, as we drive growth with new launches," said Judy Wheeler, Nissan's vice president of U.S. sales. "We have new or freshened Armada, Pathfinder and Murano. We had five models up by [at least] double digits, and that was part of the success we had in holding our own in the market."
Lindsay Chappell contributed to this report.