How far has the U.S. market tilted toward pickups, SUVs and crossovers?

Automakers are on pace to sell more than 10 million light trucks in a single calendar year for the first time.

Meanwhile, car sales are on pace to fall below 7 million this year for the first time since 2011 and only the fourth time since 1962.

So while it's increasingly unlikely that 2016 will beat last year's record for total light-vehicle volume, sales of the big vehicles that generate the bulk of many automakers' profits are at an all-time high. From that perspective, with gasoline prices expected to remain low and SUV sales still rising, 2017 could be even better for the bottom line.

"I think it looks a lot like '16 with more movement towards trucks," AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said on the group's third-quarter earnings call. "The only restriction has been installed productive capacity. ... And that is certainly good for the industry overall to have. It's more profitable for the manufacturers on the truck side than on the car side."

Through October, overall new-vehicle sales were 0.3 percent short of last year's record-setting pace. But light-truck sales were 7.1 percent higher than in the first 10 months of 2015. At that rate, trucks would account for 10.6 million units out of 17.4 million units. (Industry sales totaled 17.47 million units in 2015.)

Light-truck sales have more than doubled since 2009, when 4.7 million were sold.

Car sales, on the other hand, fell 9.7 percent through October. All nine car segments tracked by the Automotive News Data Center were down in the first 10 months of 2016.

Disparity widens

October was the industry's third monthly decline in a row, though the seasonally adjusted, annualized selling rate climbed to its highest level of 2016, 17.98 million, because the month had two fewer selling days than a year earlier.

"The industry is not quite as strong as it was last year, but we're going up against some really tough year-over-year comparisons," said Erich Merkle, Ford Motor Co.'s chief U.S. sales analyst. "So we expect that the industry will be down a little bit compared to record sales numbers we were achieving in the second half of last year particularly."

The disparity between trucks and cars widened in October, with trucks accounting for 63 percent of total volume, up from 59 percent a year ago.

A comparison of several corresponding segments highlights how dramatically consumer demand has moved toward bigger, higher-margin vehicles:

• Sales of midsize cars fell 21 percent, but midsize crossovers rose 4.2 percent.

• Large cars fell 29 percent, but large SUVs surged 29 percent.

• Compact luxury cars dropped 20 percent, but compact premium crossovers jumped 42 percent.

Living large

General Motors has reaped huge rewards from the market's shift, more than doubling its third-quarter net income and posting the smallest year-over-year decline among full-line automakers in October. GM is cashing in on its lineup of large SUVs, gaining 10 points of share in that segment vs. a year ago, even if total sales don't quite break a record this year.

"Key fundamentals like job security, rising personal incomes, low fuel prices and low interest rates continue to provide the environment for a very healthy U.S. auto industry," Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, said in a statement last week. "The U.S. auto industry is well positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels for the foreseeable future."

Ford, another big truck seller, also is headed toward one of its largest-ever annual profits, though recall costs and the launch of its redesigned Super Duty pickups took big bites out of third-quarter earnings. Fiat Chrysler, whose U.S. sales this year are 85 percent light trucks, has raised its 2016 operating profit forecast twice this year.

Nissan North America, whose parent reports earnings this week, also is taking advantage. Its U.S. car sales were down 1.8 percent through October, while its light trucks were up 13 percent. After a 2.2 percent decline in October -- compared with a 5.9 percent drop for the industry -- Nissan's U.S. share for 2016 is 9 percent, a record for the automaker.

"Our strategy has been this is the year of the truck for us, as we drive growth with new launches," said Judy Wheeler, Nissan's vice president of U.S. sales. "We have new or freshened ArmadaPathfinder and Murano. We had five models up by [at least] double digits, and that was part of the success we had in holding our own in the market."

Lindsay Chappell contributed to this report.

The article "Truck sales on pace for 10 million mark" originally appeared on

By Nick Bunkley, Automotive News

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ETROIT -- General Motors plans to deploy thousands of self-driving electric cars in test fleets in partnership with ride-sharing affiliate Lyft Inc, beginning in 2018, two sources familiar with the automaker's plans told Reuters.

It is expected to be the largest such test of fully autonomous vehicles by any major automaker before 2020, when several companies have said they plan to begin building and deploying such vehicles in higher volumes. Google's Waymo unit, in comparison, is currently testing about 60 self-driving prototypes in four states.

Most of the specially equipped versions of the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle will be used by San Francisco-based Lyft, which will test them in its ride-sharing fleet in several states, one of the sources said. GM has no immediate plans to sell the Bolt AV to individual customers, according to the source.

The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because GM has not announced its plans yet.

GM executives have said in interviews and investor presentations during the past year they intend to mass-produce autonomous vehicles and deploy them in ride services fleets. However, GM officials have not revealed details of the scale of production, or the timing of the deployment of those vehicles. 

In a statement on Friday, GM said: "We do not provide specific details on potential future products or technology rollout plans. We have said that our AV technology will appear in an on-demand ride sharing network application sooner than you might think."

Lyft declined to comment.

GM's crosstown rival Ford Motor Co. has said it plans to begin building its first self-driving vehicles at a suburban Detroit plant in late 2020, for deployment in on-demand ride sharing fleets in 2021. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is providing a small number of Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Waymo, which is converting them for self-driving tests.

GM's Maven car sharing operation likely will be involved with Lyft in developing a commercial ride sharing business around self-driving vehicles such as the Bolt AV, GM executive Mike Ableson told Reuters in a November interview.

"If you assume the cost of these autonomous vehicles, the very early ones, will be six figures, there aren't very many retail customers that are willing to go out and spend that kind of money," Ableson said. "But even at that sort of cost, with a ride sharing platform, you can build a business."

CEO Mary Barra in mid-December said GM would begin building a fully autonomous version of the Bolt EV in early 2017 at its Orion Township plant north of Detroit.

GM is testing about 40 Bolt AVs in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz., and plans to extend testing this year to Detroit, the automaker said in December.

A year ago, GM paid $500 million for a minority stake in Lyft, the second-largest U.S. ride sharing firm after Uber.

Before it closed the deal, Ableson said he and GM President Dan Ammann discussed with Lyft founders Logan Green and John Zimmer the prospect of jointly developing a ride sharing business with self-driving cars.

"We walked in not wanting so much to talk about the business today, but how do we work together to develop this idea of autonomous, on-demand networks in cities," Ableson said of the initial discussions with Lyft.

To make that business successful, Ableson said, requires the ability to engineer autonomous systems, to build self-driving vehicles in volume and to deploy them in a ride-sharing fleet.

"If you take those three things, no one company has all three," Ableson said.

GM in early 2016 acquired Cruise Automation, a San Francisco startup, to help it accelerate development of self-driving cars. GM also launched a car sharing business, Maven, which has provided vehicles to Lyft.

"Cruise, Lyft, Maven are all bringing different parts of this singular solution around autonomous on-demand networks in urban environments," Ableson said. 

Should I Trade my Old Car In or Sell it Privately?

A car dealership will accept any car in any condition. They don't care about dents, dings, rust, rips or stains in the upholstery. Even if the car doesn't run, you can have it towed in as a trade. You obviously won't get top dollar for the car, but you will rid yourself of the vehicle and all of its headaches. Plus, trading a car in to the dealer is simple. In total, it takes all of 5 minutes and you can do it on your schedule any day you'd like. There is no investment of time or money, and after a few simple signatures the dealership takes care of all the paperwork.

On the other hand, selling the car yourself will put more money in your pocket. However, most private party buyers will examine the car top to bottom, inside and out. They will question the service history,accident history, the tear on the seat, and the wear on the tires. If your car cannot withstand the scrutiny (or you don't have the disposition or time to handle the task), it may be wise to trade your car in.

DALLAS -- The twin turbo 3.5-liter V6 engine in the second generation of Ford's over-the-top off-road performance truck, the F-150 Raptor, generates 450 horsepower and 510 pounds-feet of torque, Ford said today at the State Fair of Texas.

Those outputs make it the most powerful V6 engine available in a pickup.

Ford also says the new Raptor, which has an aluminum body riding on a new and stiffer frame, is EPA-rated at 15 mpg city, 18 highway and 16 combined -- a 23 percent improvement of the 2014, V-8 powered model.

There was no Raptor offered in the 2015 and 2016 model years as Ford retooled and launched the new generation of the F-150, on which the Raptor is based.

The Raptor is the first Ford product to use a new 10-speed automatic transmission, jointly developed with General Motors.

GM is using a version of the 10-speed transmission in its Camaro ZL1, track ready sports coupe.

Raptor goes on sale in December with a starting price of $49,520 including shipping.

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