Americans are in love with their pickups, no question about it. If anything, automakers are struggling to keep up with demand for products like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 in the wake of last year’s pandemic shutdowns and this year’s chip shortages.
You might think of the pickup as a distinctly American product, however, that’s far from reality. In fact, if you’re looking at the countries where these trucks hold the highest market share, the U.S. doesn’t even land in the Top 10.
Kenya is the unquestioned king here, pickups accounting for an astounding 53% of its total new vehicle sales in 2020, according to industry data, with Thailand slightly behind with a pickup share of 47%. Our northern neighbor, Canada, also showed more truck love than Americans did last year, at 23%, with Argentina, at 22%, still two share points ahead of the U.S.
Now, all that said, the U.S. remains the overwhelming sales leader when you are talking raw volume. The Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickup were far and away the three best-selling vehicles of any form in the U.S. last year, with combined volume of 1.945 million units. The GMC Sierra, ninth among all U.S. vehicles in 2020, adds 253,016 to that total. And we’ve so far only looked at full-size trucks.
The U.S. is an also-ran in the pickup market
Measured another way, the U.S. and Canada account for roughly nine out of every 10 pickups sold worldwide when you count everything from compact to heavy-duty models. But with a combined market share of around 20%, those trucks hold barely half the share of utility vehicles and even lag the declining sedan market.
What’s unique about the U.S. is the focus on full-size and, especially, heavy-duty pickups. These products barely exist in many other markets and regions, with a handful of exceptions like the Middle East. That said, Detroit automakers are hoping to expand the appeal of these big rigs worldwide.
Ford launched the F-150 in Argentina last year, where the Ram 1500 already is on sale. The Chevy Silverado is expected to follow, according to LMC Automotive.
“As is the case in the U.S., pickups are prized in Argentina by a subset of the population who view them not only as practical, but also as a reflection of their lifestyle — a status symbol, if you will,” explains John Zekany, an LMC analyst focusing on the Americas.
“The bodystyle,” he adds, “also fits in well with the needs of Argentina’s agricultural sector, which accounts for a substantial share of the country’s GDP. Many of those who drive pickups would never dream of switching to a different vehicle type.”
What pickup buyers want varies by market
The ability to use pickups as combination work and lifestyle truck clearly appeals to buyers in many emerging markets, as is reflected by the pickup sales chart shown here.
What type of trucks they buy varies widely, however, from country to country. In many pickup-friendly markets, there are hefty tariffs and taxes that influence demand.
As a result, notes Zekany, the Ram 1500 is the only one of 11 imported models that generated sales of more than 1,000 vehicles last year. In Argentina, the locally assembled Toyota Hilux has captured a 27% share of the pickup market and 6% of the country’s overall new vehicle sales.
Midsize models like the Hilux are, for many buyers, not just more affordable but also more practical, especially when dealing with narrow roads and cramped local villages and cities. They’re also more fuel efficient, something owners in many parts of the world are acutely aware of.
The “king of the desert”
The Hilux has earned a reputation as the “king of the desert,” and it is especially popular in Africa, South America and the Middle East, according to research site Focus2Move. The Toyota now is the world’s fourth best-selling pickup, buyers in 140 different markets snapping up 457,876 of them last year.
Globally, it’s followed by the Ford Ranger – primarily the version sold outside the United States, the GMC Sierra, the Toyota Tacoma and the Isuzu D-Max.
One of the notable developments has been the rise of China’s Great Wall Wingle 5. It was number 9 last year, moving up from 12th position globally in 2019. Significantly, Toyota landed its third pickup, the Toyota Tundra, on the charts in 2020, that full-size model rounding out the top 10.
The strong global demand for trucks has encouraged more players to get into the pickup market in recent years. Mercedes-Benz launched the X-Class a few years back and Hyundai is readying for launch the compact Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, a host of new start-ups are jumping in with all-electric models, including Rivian, Bollinger, Lordstown and Atlas.
If anything, global demand for pickups could grow even bigger in the years ahead.