Sam Parnagian oversees thousands of acres of fresh grapes and mandarin oranges that will be sold at Costco and Sam's Club. Each day, he drives a 2017 F-250 Platinum through California's heartland, the third full-size pickup he has owned. "I bought one Ford and never looked back."
The vice president of operations at Fowler Packing Co. in Fresno, Calif., is a prime example of why the pickup sales streak is likely to continue bolstering profits at Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.
Ford dominates the market, with F-Series truck sales at a 12-year high.
The company benefits from having the newest products in this lucrative segment, an advantage that ends next year with the introduction of Fiat Chrysler's redesigned 2019 Ram pickup at the North American International Auto Show. Shortly after, General Motors will launch updated designs of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
Some observers wonder whether Ford is too dependent on a single segment and what might happen if demand wanes, as occurred in the months before the 2007-09 recession.
But, for now, analysts see no end in sight for the pickup boom.
"There's less risk in the large pickup truck. There's no depreciation," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive. "If you look at things from an investor standpoint, I don't know that Ford gets credit for just how valuable the truck franchise is."
AutoPacific estimates Americans will buy 2.2 million full-size pickups this year.
"With Ford's average transaction price near $45,000, it's amazing to think about what this does for the economy," said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific. "Are people buying pickup trucks to drive on different days of the week? Where is Ford finding all these buyers every month willing to plop down that kind of cash? We're not talking about an extra pair of shoes. The F-Series is killing it."
The price of a new F-150 starts at $27,380. The F-Series Super Duty trucks start at $32,535. High-series Super Duty trucks -- Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum -- range from $45,305 to $90,000. Consumers aren't blinking at the prices. In October, the F-Series average transaction price increased $4,000 over a year ago to $47,300. The F-Series Super Duty increased its average transaction $1,600 over a year ago to $55,200.
This year through October, Ford sold 658,636 full-size pickups, or about 38 percent of the segment, while 24 percent went to Chevy Silverado, 22 percent to Ram Truck and 9 percent to GMC Sierra.
The first 10 months of 2017 have been the F-Series' best since 2005, when consumers bought 734,610 trucks.
Jeremiah Parker, a retired contractor from Shoreham, Vt., has owned seven F-150 pickups and an F-250 for towing a big camper. His neighbor, Anne DeHaven, has owned three F-150 pickups over the past decade.
"I manage a horse farm, so a truck is just as important as the air I breathe," DeHaven said. "People are funny about their trucks. Some are Chevy people, some are Dodge folks. I'm a Ford gal."
She said she needed a truck that has 4-wheel drive and can pull a 5,000-pound two-horse trailer. She also drives about 100 miles a day doing property inspections, including some that take her into the hills and mountains of Vermont in all kinds of weather.
DeHaven considered switching to an SUV. But after 2010, Ford offered its EcoBoost feature that improved fuel economy, allowing DeHaven to get 17 to 23 mpg, depending on her average speed.
F-Series buyers include ranchers, construction workers, small business owners, oil and gas executives and anyone who wants to pull big loads.
"While you may not see many of these trucks on the streets of Manhattan," said Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford, "they are sold in large numbers in wide-open spaces all across America."
Sales of the Ford F-Series, which include luxury amenities and greater towing capacity with the F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 trucks, grew at 11 percent, nearly twice the 4.8 percent rate of the full-size pickup segment this year through October. That reflects greater availability as production on the current aluminum-body Super Duty began in late summer of 2016.
While Ford sales benefited from vehicle replacement after recent hurricanes, growth appears part of a solid long-term trend.
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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