Early indications are that light truck
sales in July hit 716,973, which was 20.4% higher than the 595,362 of July 1998. The
growth rate is the highest achieved in the sector since the opening two months of 1994,
and that was achieved when the sector was just embarking on its sustained and remarkable
rise. That took growth for the first seven months of 1999 to 10.3% with sales rising to
4,825,750 from 4,373,609. That means sales in the first seven months were almost at the
level achieved for the whole of 1992.

To achieve growth of over 20% when the
sector is in its ninth consecutive year of growth would be staggering, if it were quite
true. As it happens, July 1998 was restricted for sales due to a shortage of critical
models from General Motors. Nevertheless, the sales result for July was pretty much in
line with results in previous years. The monthly sales pattern changed in 1992. Prior to
that the July sales figure was usually higher than the June figure. Since 1992 the July
result has been lower than June by varying degrees, and the 7.5% dip in 1999 is no more
than average. Almost on that basis alone we feel that our full year expectations must now
be for light truck sales that will top the 8 million mark, having broached the 7 million
mark for the first time in 1998. It is incredible that prior to 1993 the sector had never
beaten 5 million.

Last month we wrote that growth in the
light truck sector is slowing. We have to concede that even if July 1998 had been a month
untouched by unnatural shortages, growth in 1999 would still have been fairly vigorous,
probably around 9%. To quite a degree that is down to the vehicle manufacturers and not to
the customer. The man in the street seems to be feeling fairly good right now.
Unemployment levels are at their lowest standing for some years, and feelings of job
security encourage spending, even when the underlying trend in the national economy
suggests that spending should be reined in. The man in the street wants his new vehicle,
but he also wants to make a statement, so he is looking for something just that bit
different.

The sector has been totally dominated by
the indigenous trio, so for something different, today’s buyer has had to look at the
likes of Toyota, Nissan, Honda, KIA and even Land Rover. That has taken market share away
from Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler, so the response has come in the form of some very
generous incentives on what are supposedly very hot items. So that won’t last
forever, you can only buy sales for so long. But the intriguing thing about the light
truck sector is that it is proving to be more flexible and adaptable than the car sector
ever could be. Manufacturers have now woken up to the fact that you can pander to almost
any whim with a beefy pick-up or a muscular 4×4. The pipeline is gradually filling with an
array of new ‘Lifestyle’ products that will further stimulate sales for a
period. So although we all know that eventually the bubble will burst, it doesn’t
look as though that is going to happen tomorrow.

Ford is finding it tough at the top,
despite having the best selling vehicle in North America with the F150. Ford Group sales
dipped by 4.5% in July to 208,444 from 218,313 and they were outsold for the month by the
GM Group on 213,354 from 141,210. But both groups are losing market share and for the year
to date Ford Group has slipped to 31.4% from 31.9% and GM Group have eased to 30.4% from
31.7%. DaimlerChrysler had a much better month in July, sales rising by 20.8%, but YTD
they failed to match the market average growth rate and share slipped marginally to 24.5%
from 24.7% as sales rose 9.4% against the average rate of 10.3%.