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Manufacturers Notice Uptick In Sales Of Small Pickup Trucks


The pickup truck - sales of pickup trucks are through the roof especially small trucks. And that says something larger about the auto industry as well as the broader U.S. economy. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports from Los Angeles.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: OK. To illustrate this economic principle, I don't have to go far. I'm literally standing, like, 10 yards from my house. And there are about half a dozen small pickup trucks in the street. I guess I'm going to go try to find a worker. You're the pool guy?


GLINTON: Got lucky - first guy in about 20 yards. Selvin Aguilar, he has his own pool cleaning business. He says he does about 15 a day in LA and around the San Fernando Valley. Aguilar says he has exactly two reasons for driving a small truck - one financial and one practical.

AGUILAR: The reason that I use this smaller truck is because of the gas. I don't want to spend more money than what I spent on this.

GLINTON: And now the practical.

AGUILAR: I work at some over the hill - Hollywood Hills. The streets there are small. You know, and the smaller the truck is the easier it is to find parking.

AARON BRAGMAN: You ever tried parking a full-size dully pickup in downtown Los Angeles? It's an extreme challenge.

GLINTON: Aaron Bragman with cars.com and pickuptrucks.com says that practicality is behind the recent resurgence of the small pickup truck. This year their sales have increased by 50 percent.

BRAGMAN: They're work trucks in the purest sense of the word. They are built and bought to do work. And when you have a business - a small business - you need something that's small and efficient and can actually do some work. You don't necessarily need a great big huge, full-size pickup. And even something like that doesn't make sense for a lot of cities.

GLINTON: The demand for trucks is so great that many of the car companies just keep adding new types. Toyota has been building small trucks for 50 years, and it owns the segment. James George is with Toyota's truck division, and he showed me the latest version of the Toyota Tacoma at Toyota's headquarters in Torrance, Calif.

JAMES GEORGE: What you'll see in trucks nowadays is that they are moving towards, you know, a look that mimics that of a midsize SUV.

GLINTON: Until recently, Toyota ruled the small truck world in the U.S. GM just got back into the small truck game with the new Chevy Colorado which they literally can't make fast enough. And then there's even reports that Ford, which dominates the full-truck market, will get back into the small truck game by bringing back the small Ford Ranger. Again Toyota's James George.

GEORGE: Love the front end because it just screams ruggedness and aggressiveness especially when you compare this to some of our competitor vehicles.

GLINTON: Was that you calling your competitors wimpy?

GEORGE: No, I would never say that.

GLINTON: To be clear these smaller trucks are small but growing fraction of the truck market, and they represent a fraction of industry profits. Trucks like the F-150 and the Chevy Silverado still rule the road. Michelle Krebs is with autotrader.com.

MICHELLE KREBS: Trucks and sport utilities are the fashion and cars - except for maybe performance cars like the Mustang - are very much out of fashion.

GLINTON: Kreb she says all this activity in the truck space points to the health of the U.S. economy.

KREBS: Well, there definitely is a specific correlation between full-size pickup trucks and housing starts. If you chart it out over time, they correlate perfectly.

GLINTON: This week we saw construction spending and truck sales go up. Big or small, the truck and SUV world keep expanding. We can hope the correlation with the economy continues. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.
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