Demand for pickups, crossovers drives Chicago Auto Show
Chicago — Automakers can’t produce enough pickups and crossovers to feed demand of U.S. consumers.
That’s the resounding messages out of the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, as automaker after automaker on Thursday announced new and updated sport utilities — from off-road pickups by Ram Truck and Toyota, to crossovers from Chevy, Kia and Hyundai.
Nissan announced its new full-size Titan pickup would come to market this summer. The truck will be built in Canton, Mississippi. Nissan will move production of its all-new 2017 Armada SUV — which debuted at the show — from Mississippi to Japan to squeeze as much pickup production out of the plant as possible.
“There’s a consumer shift going on,” said Nissan North America Director and Chief Marketing Manager Phil O’Connor. “We want to take advantage of that.” He said the Japanese automaker is “looking at all possibilities” for new utility vehicles to help satisfy demand.
Rich Miller, Nissan North America director of product planning for trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles, said the company aims to get its pickup market share from 1 percent to 4 percent or more in coming years.
Ford Vice President of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service Mark LaNeve opened the show by reconfirming the company’s commitment to introduce four all-new SUVs in the next four years. He said Ford believes consumer preference globally continues to shift away from cars to utilities.
“As we’re looking to future trends and how the SUV market is splintering to meet consumer preference and consumer needs, we’re going to participate where we think we can bring great Ford and Lincoln product that meets both of those brands and takes advantage of an opportunity in the market,” he told reporters on Thursday.
The “consumer shift” to utility vehicles led Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne less than a month ago to announce it plans to discontinue production of sedans in the United States to clear room for pickup and SUV production.
Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of Toyota at Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the Japanese automaker recently hired 300 at its San Antonio’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas assembly plant to increase production of the full-size Tundra and midsize Tacoma pickups by 10,000-12,000.
“That probably still isn’t enough in the current environment we’re in,” he said, adding the company aims to sell more than 300,000 pickups in 2016. “We’re going to continue to work with our manufacturing partners and try to do whatever we can to meet consumer demand.”
Fay said Toyota, which had the two top-selling sedans in the United States in 2015, is by no means giving up on cars, but it will respond to market demands.
Other pickup debuts at the show included a Ram 2500 off-road edition; 2017 Ram Power Wagon; and blacked-out editions of the Chevy Colorado and Silverado.
Cheap gas is helping fuel the shift by both baby boomers and millennials. Utility vehicles are getting better fuel economy, better looks and newer technologies.
“The low cost of fuel just adds, I think, more fuel to the fire ... on the move from passenger cars into SUVs,” LaNeve said. “If there was a run-up in fuel prices, it would be more of a shift from bigger utilities to smaller utilities — not a shift into passenger cars.”
2015 marked the fifth time in six years that light-duty trucks, including some SUVs and crossovers, outsold cars. Trucks accounted for 55.7 percent, or 9.7 million, of vehicles sold last year, up more than 1.1 million from 2014.
Although pickups dominated the show, a few brands did premiere updated cars, including Chrysler, Kia and Chevrolet.
Chevrolet showed off new 1LE models for its Camaro — and a refreshed Trax subcompact crossover.
Chrysler displayed Detroit-inspired “Alloy Edition” packages for the Chrysler 200S and 300S sedans.
In addition to Kia’s all-new 2017 Niro “hybrid utility vehicle,” the automakers showed two hybrid versions of its Optima, including a new plug-in model.