Perhaps the most surprising outcome from rising gas prices is just how well pickup trucks are holding on to their value.
Way back during the financial crisis as fuel prices soared, American consumers began switching from their preference for pickups and SUVs to gas-sipping smaller cars, causing headaches for the big-vehicle makers. With gas prices in the $4-per-gallon range at the time, Ford (NYSE:F) began slashing production of its once-popular F-series pickups and SUVs in favor of more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers.
We're thankfully not returning to those days any time soon, but gas prices are still appreciably higher today than they were a year ago. According to AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular gas is $2.28, some 34% higher than last year, and gas prices started the new year at their highest levels since 2014.
Even so, pickup truck prices are retaining their value. According to Kelley Blue Book, which recently issued its fourth-quarter survey of auction values for all kinds of vehicles that are between one and three years old, it was the pickup truck segment that did surprisingly well. KBB said auction values for all vehicles tumbled 6.8% in the fourth quarter, or $1,148 on average, retaining just 52.7% of their value.
KBB blames increased volumes of vehicles coming off lease for the depressed pricing, and as 2017 is expected to see even more vehicles go off lease, the outlook is getting dim.
Yet for all that, pickup trucks did well, finishing 2016 with an average 2.7% increase in value, or some $545, year over year. But the real eyebrow-raiser was that it was full-size pickup trucks that did best, rising on average 3% from the year-ago period, compared to midsize pickups' 1% gain from 2015.
So which full-size pickup trucks did best? Here are the five best trucks for model years 2013 to 2015 for retained value in the fourth quarter, as compiled by KBB.
5. Ford F-150 (-11% or $2,083)
It should probably come as no surprise that the most popular pickup truck on the market is also one of the trucks that retains the most value at auction. According to data it gleaned from Autodata's Motor Intelligence, The Wall Street Journal notes that the F-150 remains the best-selling vehicle today -- truck or car -- with almost 58,000 trucks sold in January, up 12.5% from last year and 63% more than the second-place Chevy Silverado with over 35,500 trucks sold. KBB points out that it was Ford's decision to upgrade the model-year 2015 F-150 that helped the segment boost its values. Used-vehicle site AutoTrader noted at the time that better fuel efficiency from a new 283-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine was just one of the improvements Ford made to the truck from the prior year's model.
4. Ram 1500 (-11% or $2,032)
That same Motor Intelligence market data shows that the Dodge Ram pickup from Fiat Chrysler (NYSE:FCAU) is the third most popular vehicle on the market today, with more than 33,700 trucks sold, so the fact that it's also a vehicle that's able to retain its value at auction is no surprise. This also underscores why the pickup segment has done so well in resale value: The top three best-selling vehicles are trucks. (The CR-V from Honda Motors breaks the streak, landing in fourth place.)
3. Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (-9% or $1,181)
Considering the above, it should also not cause jaws to drop that General Motors' (NYSE:GM) Chevy Silverado made KBB's list as well. KBB noted at the time that the model-year 2013 Silverado also offered an improved, more fuel-efficient V8 engine and that it was the industry's only full-size hybrid pickup, too. Buyers of full-size pickups usually aren't concerned with fuel economy, but rather strength, and KBB said that's "why the Silverado delivers performance at or near the top of its class in almost every category." Even used-truck buyers still apparently appreciate the Chevy's durability.
2. Toyota Tundra (-8% or $1,802)
There are all sorts of reasons that Toyota's (NYSE:TM) Tundra pickup shouldn't be on KBB's list. It doesn't break any sales records (it doesn't crack the Journal's top-20 vehicle sales list, for example, though with some 6,600 sold last month it is the fifth best-selling full-sized truck); it trails the competition in fuel economy, towing capacity, and payload; and it doesn't offer a three quarter- or one-ton version. Yet for all that, buyers are still willing to pay up for the vehicle at auction, they've long retained their resale value -- which buyers dropping a big chunk of change on a truck do like -- and that may be a reflection of its ability to earn high reliability marks, though other top-ranking trucks have also proved reliable too.
1. Nissan Titan (-2% or $498)
Another also-ran in the sales department, the Titan pickup from Nissan (NASDAQOTH:NSANY) nevertheless remains the truck that best retains its value. KBB noted several years ago that it was a tough competitor to the F-150 and the Silverado... back in 2004, but Nissan had done little to upgrade the truck since then. It did have some competitive advantages in areas like hauling and towing capabilities, and it offered packages that would appeal to specific truck buyers, such as its off-road model. Still, its ability to land atop this list of trucks able to retain their value better than any other full-size pickup on the market may be the most surprising outcome.
Critics of the Titan routinely knock it for failing to hold its value, and they're not exactly a high demand vehicle -- Nissan sold fewer than 22,000 Titans in the U.S. for all of last year, or about what Ford sells in a week and a half. So how might this have happened? Well last year Nissan introduced the Titan XD that upped the ante on the power its trucks had and offered an optional Cummins 5-liter turbocharged V8 diesel engine that ought to have turned a lot of heads. Maybe that's the reason Nissan Titans nearly doubled their sales over 2015.
In a year when trucks have upset cars in retaining value, the Nissan Titan may have pulled off the biggest upset of them all.