To say 2009 was a tough year for auto-makers would be something of an understatement.
But you could also say it was a very good year for truck buyers who managed to stay in the market. When the construction industry went into a skid, prices for pickups and other work vehicles plummeted, and nearly all vehicle sales came to a dead stop at the deepest point of the recession. Pickup buyers could just about name their price as dealers desperate to move inventory advertised sales up to half off.
Those dealers weren't idle for long, however. Under the government "cash for clunkers" program, which lasted less than 30 days and totaled $2.8 billion in new sales, fully 85 percent of trade-ins were classified as trucks. Although that included vans and large SUVs, the single most-swapped vehicle was a full-size pickup. And nearly half of all new purchases under the program – officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System – were replacement trucks (for details, go to www.cars.gov/carsreport).
Only the strongest survive a downturn like last year's, and several pickup marques either have disappeared entirely or are currently driving on thin ice. General Motors, with the biggest stable, lost the most pickup models overall: The anticipated Pontiac Sport Truck based on the G8 platform was scrapped shortly before its maker was made redundant, and although the Chevy Silverado-based Avalanche "SUV pickup" returned, the matching Cadillac Escalade EXT was scratched, along with the sporty retro Chevy SST. Isuzu dropped its version of GM's Colorado and Canyon pickups in 2009 but continues to produce them overseas.
One promising 2009 debut, the downsized Hummer H3T pickup, is in the process of being sold to a Chinese manufacturer, although part of the deal is that GM would continue to produce the vehicle here through 2011 or possibly 2012.
Another casualty was the Mazda B-Series pickups; built on the Ford Ranger platform, they were axed in the spring, but the trucks are still being built here for the Canada market. Perhaps the most startling absence for 2010 is the midsize Suzuki Equator pickup, which was just introduced around this time last year but has already gone missing from the lineup. Built for Suzuki by Nissan on the Frontier assembly line in Tennessee, the Equator had barely hit the showrooms before its plug was pulled.
Despite the bloodletting, it's still a buyer's market, and there's a lot of great product out there. But if home building comes alive as expected this spring, pickup sales – along with interest rates – will rise to keep pace, and today's fire-sale prices won't last. Meanwhile, manufacturers that began planning and engineering their 2010 vehicles long before the recession hit are rolling out some fine new vehicles and hoping for a big return on their investment. If you're still in the market, they're more than ready to deal. Here's what they have to offer.