Economic indicators that track with strong pickup sales are new home and commercial construction and growing agricultural markets. Construction employment is running modestly ahead of year-ago levels, but below 2007 levels, according to November data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There is still concern that Ford needs to focus more on other segments.
"The company is late to market on small crossovers but, in the short term, they need to work on making the Escape, Edge and Explorer more appealing to millennial and Gen X shoppers," said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book.
The top-selling market segment now is the compact SUV, which moved from 1.8 percent in 1994 to 17.2 percent in 2017, according to Cox Automotive research.
But Smoke said pickup sales are more stable and dependable than the SUV market, which is seeing more spending by manufacturers on incentives.
Pickup sales make up 16.1 percent of the vehicle market, just slightly ahead of midsize SUV sales, but less than compact SUVs, the Cox Automotive data show.
Pickups accounted for as much as 19 percent of the U.S. market in 2005 and 2006 at the peak of the last housing boom. The market fell to 14 percent in 2009 before starting its steady ascent over the past five years.
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