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Pickups are pricing out the average new vehicle buyer

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 5, 2018

The Ram 1500 pickup is consistently among the better-selling trucks in the U.S. The average transaction price for the Ram came in at $42,484, According to data from Kelley Blue Book. (Tribune News Service)
The Ram 1500 pickup is consistently among the better-selling trucks in the U.S. The average transaction price for the Ram came in at $42,484, According to data from Kelley Blue Book. (Tribune News Service)
By Jamie L. Lareau Detroit Free Press

Truck enthusiasts Ernest Johnson and Mike Herron couldn’t be more different.

Johnson, 80, lives in Pontiac, Michigan. He retired from General Motors in 1999 where he drove a tractor-trailer delivery truck for 35 years.

Meanwhile, Herron, 65, lives in Durant, Oklahoma, about 50 miles north of Dallas. He owns four businesses and is a real estate investor who has driven BMW sports cars for the past decade.

Yet, each paid an amount equal to that of a small house to buy new 2019 GM pickups.

“The price is a little high, but with all the technology on it, I guess it’s worth it,” said Johnson. “But, in the future, it’s something a lot of people won’t be able to afford.”

Johnson paid nearly $60,000 for his 2019 Chevrolet Silverado Z71, he said. For that price, he will keep it a long time, saying, “I won’t have a choice.”

The prices people are paying for pickups have steadily risen over the past decade, pushing the trucks further and further out of reach for average consumers. In fact, some full-size pickups can cost more than $100,000.

Edmunds’ data shows, through September, the average transaction price for a full-size pickup is $48,377, a 48 percent boost from 10 years ago and a 19 percent increase from 2013 for the same period. For that price, a person could buy a Mercedes-Benz or BMW luxury sedan.

“A 48 percent increase in price is the highest price increase for that time period out of all vehicle categories,” said Ivan Drury, senior analyst at Edmunds. “Even at $45,000, it prices a lot of people out.”

How much?

In September 2013, the average transaction price for a full-size pickup was $41,680, According to data from Kelley Blue Book. This September, it was $48,369.

Yet the expectations of most pickup buyers fall far below what they actually end up paying, according to data from Cox Automotive, which owns Kelley Blue Book.

Most buyers expect to pay $26,699 for a new midsize pickup, Cox data show.

But, the average transaction price through August 2018 is actually $33,275.

Similarly, the expected price of a full-size pickup is $38,529, but the average transaction price for the year through August is $47,987.

Last month, the average transaction price for the Ford F-series was $46,591. The Chevrolet Silverado was $42,162 and the Ram came in at $42,484, according to J.D. Power’s Power Information Network data. Those figures include 2018 and 2019 model-year pickups.

Chevrolet only started trickling out the high-end, more expensive, redesigned 2019 Silverado in August. GMC also started delivering the redesigned 2019 Sierra Denali, its luxury pickup, to dealers about the same time. Cox Automotive said the average transaction price in 2018 for the Sierra 1500 is $51,794 and $58,738 for Denali trims.

The average transaction price for F-series pickups is higher than the other two brands because about a third of F-series buyers purchase high-line Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Limited and Raptor model pickups.

Also, Ford does “a lot of volume on XLT and work trucks, which gives us year-to-date (September) sales numbers that are now 254,000 trucks higher than Silverado and 303,000 trucks higher than Ram,” Ford U.S. sales analyst Erich Merkle said.

But Ford also offered the lowest incentives last month at $4,863 on average compared with $5,266 on the Silverado and $5,588 on the Ram, J.D. Power data said.

Looking for luxury

Even on the more basic pickup models, the surge in prices over the years is driven by added bells and whistles to the trucks as well as consumers increasingly using them as family vehicles instead of strictly for work. Low gasoline prices help drive demand for pickups, supporting higher pickup prices, analysts said.

“There are consumers who can afford the bare bones basic vehicles at $30,000, but once you’re shown an option like a ventilated seat versus a cloth seat and it’s 90 degrees outside, it becomes a very compelling argument to say yes,” Drury said. “Ten years ago, comfort packages weren’t offered on trucks. People are saying, ‘I want those even if those vehicles are used to haul mulch.’ ”

Taking a look at the median purchase price rather than the average purchase price, the numbers land a little differently, although still climb higher. The median purchase price for a pickup nine years ago was $31,000. It rose to $37,000 in 2013. Today, it is $43,000, said Alexander Edwards, president of consultancy Strategic Vision in San Diego.

Meanwhile, the median household income of the truck buyer also has been on the rise, Edwards said. Through August, that metric is $100,305 a year compared with the median household income of a general new vehicle buyer at $95,355, he said. But in 2009, the median household income for general new car buyers was $83,516 versus median household income of pickup buyers, which was $76,660, he said. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the median household income in the United States at about $59,000.

“So those who purchase a truck have even more money than those who buy a new car,” said Strategic Vision’s Edwards. And, that’s even as the median purchase price of a new vehicle is $34,000, well below that of a pickup, he said. “Yet, the new vehicle buyers are more likely to be college-educated than those buying new pickups.”

Only 15 percent of full-size pickup buyers use the trucks for business, Edwards said. Of those who buy heavy-duty pickups, only about a quarter of them use them for work, he said. Yet, when asked whether pickup owners use their pickups to carry their kids daily, 12 percent said yes, compared with just 7 percent in 2009, he said.

“Trucks are definitely not priced in the range of your normal U.S. buyer,” Edwards said. “For some, it’s even possible to have a BMW and a full-size truck in the garage.”

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