Sales of domestic brand pickup trucks and SUVs in the United States plunged in September, according to numbers crunched by just-auto analyst Bill Cawthon.

By Cawthon's reckoning, sales of US domestic brand 'light' trucks - both pickups and SUVs - were off 25% last month to 408,280 units compared with 544,484 in September '04.

Year to date? Much better. 4,333,382 so far - actually up 1.5%. But have September's floods in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi - and the associated spike in fuel prices as offshore oil platforms closed, refineries shut and pipelines were switched off - started a steeper downward trend? Ask again in early January…

According to Cawthon, most of these so-called 'light trucks' are pretty hefty by European standards where one of Nissan's new Spanish-built Nissan Navaras could be a handful in a shopping centre car park.

The only American-brand pickup on sale over here through manufacturer-franchised dealerships is the Thai-built Ford Ranger (completely different from the US model). Private importers bring in some American-made models and the odd privately imported Chevrolet-badged Isuzu D-Max, also made in Thailand, is also about.

Otherwise pickups, are much smaller than their US cousins and Japanese, albeit almost all now Thai-made, with names like Mitsubishi L200 (Triton), Toyota Hilux and Mazda B-series.

DaimlerChrysler, which sells some Jeep SUVs in Europe, launches left-hand drive versions of the huge (by UK standards) Dodge Ram pickup here this month.

In contrast, the US light trucks class is for models with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) under 10,000 pounds for both personal and commercial use.

"They are classed as trucks under the very liberal government rules as to what constitutes a truck as opposed to a car," notes Cawthon. Cases in point: the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Magnum wagon and Chrysler  Pacifica crossover are all classed as a 'trucks'.

Cawthon's data shows that US brand 'big trucks' - large SUVs and pickups such as the Ford Explorer, Excursion and Expedition SUVs, Chevrolet's Tahoe and Yukon, the Dodge Ram truck, et al - were off 31.8% to 281,228 units last month compared to 412,087 in September '04. Year to date sales were down 3.4% to 3,027,782.

And large SUVs - think Cadillac Escalade, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee - fell 37.7% to 61,353 in September, down from 98,501 a year ago. Year so far, the news again is better - off 9.8% to 713, 462.

So Japanese SUV and truck brands reported rises, right? Er, yes and no.

While import brand light trucks were up 11.1% year to date to 391,494 units, the likes of Toyota's Lexus GX470 and Land Cruiser, Nissan's Armada and Infiniti QX56 SUVs and the Detroit-challenging Nissan Titan truck on which they're based, BMW's X5, sundry Land and Range Rovers and VW's Touareg saw September sales down a modest 7.5% to 37,273 units.

The brands and model-by-model breakdowns are also interesting. See the tables below.

Graeme Roberts

click table to enlarge
click table to enlarge
click table to enlarge

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