If you need to know only one thing about vehicle sales in the U.S., it's this: Americans love pickups, and so do domestic automakers; they're the main source of profits for both Ford (NYSE: F) and General Motors (NYSE: GM). Considering it's been America's best-selling vehicle for over 30 years, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Ford has sold by far more F-Series pickups than any other vehicle in 2013. Here's the full list:
Of course, it needs to be pointed out that General Motors (NYSE: GM) has two pickups that are counted separately in the sales rankings, the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. Still, even when adding together Silverado and Sierra sales, GM trails the F-Series by more than 63,000 pickups sold in 2013.
This year is notable because brand-new Silverado and Sierra pickups hit the market this summer, while Ford's F-Series is heading into its last year before all-new new models arrive. Though Ford does a good job refreshing its pickups, the fact that GM's brand-new pickups haven't been able to outsell 'old' Ford models signals that this trend should continue for the foreseeable future, barring production issues. The last time GM outsold Ford in pickups was in 2009, and the gap between them has grown over the past few years.
The good news for both Ford and GM is that pickups are highly profitable, and both automakers sell a ton of them. Some analysts believe that pickups can bring home profits of up to $10,000 per vehicle, compared to around $1,000 for sedans, underscoring how crucial they are to the domestic automakers. Pickups are the big reason that both Ford and GM have been able to hit previously unthinkable operating margins in North America, with Ford clocking in at 10.6% and GM at 9.4% in the third quarter.
What about cars?
Toyota's (NYSE: TM) ever-popular Camry is poised to continue its 11 year run as America's best-selling car in 2013, though it did recently lose its recommendation from Consumer Reports in its annual reliability rankings. It's too early to know whether this will affect the Camry in the months to come, but it's certainly not a good sign for a company that counts reliability as one of its main selling points.
The so-called D-Segment, to which the Camry belongs, is always the most interesting to watch when it comes to car sales. That's because this uber-competitive segment is chock full of big names, including the Honda (NYSE: HMC) Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu. Automakers often want to make a statement in this segment and carry that momentum to other vehicles, like Ford did recently with the Fusion.
Honda's CR-V and Ford's Escape are the only SUVs to make the list, and it's going to be a photo finish between the two vehicles come Dec. 31. Both crossover SUVs are built on small car platforms, enabling them to sport good fuel efficiency and solid handling, while being able to carry more than sedans or compact cars.
What to keep an eye on
For investors, there aren't a ton of surprises on this list as we head toward the end of the year. The biggest thing to keep an eye on going forward is, of course, the pickup segment. The new F-Series won't likely begin shipping until next fall, but there will likely be a drop in output before that as factories switch over to producing the new model. Investors should keep a close eye on whether this translates to reduced sales for Ford's main profit producer, and whether GM or the Dodge Ram can steal away some market share.