2015 a bumper year for U.S. pickup enthusiasts

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2015 a bumper year for U.S. pickup enthusiasts

Americans are about to have their pick from the broadest set of updated pickups ever, just as cheap gasoline rekindles their love affair with trucks.
Revamped versions of Toyota Motor’s Tacoma and Nissan Motor’s Titan are set to hit dealer lots in 2015, raising to nine the number of pickup models sold in the United States redesigned in the past three years. The breadth of fresh models is unprecedented in any period since Japan’s automakers began trying to crack the Detroit-dominated market in the 1990s.
The new pickups debuting today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit will intensify the battle among automakers for a growing set of customers in an ever- lucrative segment of the U.S. market. As more Americans go back to pumping gas for less than $2 a gallon, Ford Motor and General Motors lead truck manufacturers coming off their best year for deliveries since 2007.
“I don’t remember a time when all the trucks have been redone this close together,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for AutoTrader.com. “It’s true across the whole industry and it’s spreading to the truck business: New is not what it used to be. The bloom is off the rose a lot sooner.”
Automakers pursue U.S. pickup buyers because of the high number of purchasers and how much money those consumers are willing to spend. The market for $50,000-and-up trucks overshadows the set of buyers that Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW AG’s main brand draw for their pricey models, an analysis last month by TrueCar showed.
A confluence of economic and industry conditions contributed to the clustering of automakers’ pickup model redesigns into such a short period.
Automakers stretched the length of time their trucks went without major changes when rising gasoline prices shifted demand to buyers who needed them for work and their utility rather than for recreational or image reasons. The global recession forced manufacturers to tighten product-development budgets and push back updates even further.
In the small pickup market dominated by Toyota’s Tacoma, the Japanese manufacturer also could afford to wait because GM, Ford and Chrysler Group discontinued their competitive models in 2011 and 2012. GM returned to the market last year with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and the former won Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year Award.
“The competition is good to bring more awareness back to that compact or midsize segment now,” said Mike Sweers, Toyota’s chief engineer for the Tacoma and Tundra pickups.
“It’s bringing in some new customers.”
After having dominated the small-truck segment with a 64 percent market share last year, Toyota is showing little alarm about Tacoma sales shrinking in the face of GM’s return. The Tacoma factory near Tijuana, Mexico, will become Toyota’s first North American plant to operate on three shifts starting in April, boosting production capacity by about 40 percent to 89,000 a year.
Contrary to Tacoma’s commanding position in small trucks, Nissan’s Titan is a bit player among full-size pickups. Within a year of its debut as a 2004 model, the truck’s share of the segment peaked at just 3.4 percent. Ford’s F-Series line outsold Titan 60-to-1 last year.
“The market performance of that segment has not mirrored cars in that the domestics have not really ceded share,” Tom Libby, an analyst with IHS Automotive, said by telephone. “In the ’80s, the Japanese really emerged in cars and the domestics lost their foundation. But in trucks, the domestics never really lost that foundation. There was never the dissatisfaction.”
Nissan will revamp Titan with more-pronounced styling than its decade-old and staid predecessor while also offering a 5-liter, V-8 turbo diesel engine supplied by Cummins that boosts performance.
“The look of the truck is going to be quite appealing to a typical trucker and consumer,” said Fred Diaz, senior vice president for Nissan’s U.S. sales, marketing and operations.
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