The last seven years or so have seen the steady rise of sales of full size pickups from the USA to the point where there's every chance that around 10,000 units will be sold here across the two brands currently officially available in Australia, namely RAM and Chevrolet.
Very shortly they will be joined by the Ford offering, the F-150, and then it's highly likely that Toyota will decide to press the button on the Tundra as well. Tundra testing is apparently well under way here with a view to making a final call on going ahead in the not too distant future.
That'll mean four very capable, and very large, pickups being available here. And, although all four are converted from their original left-hand drive form to right-hand drive here in Australia, they lack for nothing in terms of quality from what I've seen and driven in the case of the RAM 1500 and the Chevrolet Silverado. My firsthand experience is that, with both those models, it's all but impossible to tell that these vehicles have been converted, post-build, from LHD to RHD and that's a credit to the Walkinshaw Group who carry out both the conversions.
But, with two more major players entering the market, will the total market double in size or will the existing market purely be fragmented?
There's several other factors at play as well here.
Firstly, RAM Trucks were offering very affordable entry level vehicles at under $100k until recently. Now that the older, cheaper, model is no longer offered, is that being reflected in the latest, October, registrations figures where sales of the RAM 1500 are down 50 per cent? Or is there a short term supply issue behind the drop? Time will tell.
The remaining, new model, RAM offerings, along with the Silverado and the F-150 all start well north of $100k. So, none of them are cheap.
Then, you have to factor in the fact that all these standard size models sold here have petrol engines. Around 90 per cent of standard size pickups (Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, etc) sold in Australia are diesel-powered, for good reason. The real time, every day, economy and longevity of diesels outstrips petrol equivalents every time.
In an era of relatively cheap fuel, petrol engines may not be much of an impediment to sales, but with fuel prices seemingly only heading one way, surely a diesel engine option would make sense for the Chev and the RAM? Both the Silverado 1500 and the RAM 1500 are offered with diesel engines in the USA, after all.
I believe that the larger Chevrolet Silverado and RAM offerings, the HD and the 2500/3500, will ultimately prove to be more resilient in the market than their smaller, petrol powered, cousins. That's due to having diesel engines and being excellent tow vehicles. They really are proper tools, despite being expensive. The Chevrolet Silverado HD, in particular, looks sharp and has the benefit of a huge V8 diesel power unit. But that very large truck market is probably 3000 units a year here at the most.
As regards the new entry, the Ford F-150, I do wonder whether it's going to get anything like the traction here that the highly successful Ranger, for instance, enjoys in its segment. Not only is it petrol-powered (and there's no diesel option available in the US apparently, unlike the Chev/RAM competitors) but it's a V6 engine, rather than a V8.
If I'm buying a lifestyle truck of this sort and am clearly not too concerned about fuel prices, then I reckon that I'd want a V8 all day long, rather than a V6, especially at the same sort of dollar figure. Maybe there's a reason why the V8 engine didn't work in the F-150 RHD conversion process, but it does look like they've missed a trick here.
Meantime, if I was Chevrolet or RAM, I'd be working on offering their respective 1500s with a diesel option as soon as possible in order to future proof sales here. Not everyone will want it, but plenty of prospective customers would choose to go down that route.
Overall though, even with well-executed new offerings from Ford and Toyota, I don't see the market going much above 10,000 units per annum, and it may even struggle to reach that if times get tough. Which of the four manufacturers will stand the test of time then? I'd bet that it'll be RAM and Chevrolet, as long as they enhance their 1500 offerings with diesel options.
The lifestyle punter will have a V8 available from them (Toyota don't make the Tundra with a V8 at all) and the customer looking for a working truck would have a diesel option available.
As it happens, I also think that the latest RAM and Silverado trucks look better than the F-150, at least in the specifications that are being offered in this market. That is probably important, given no-one buying one of these is exactly flying under the radar in Australia! It's also a reason that the latest Ranger Raptor sells so well – it looks highly impressive.
Of course, Toyota could blow all this apart if they were to pitch the Tundra into the market at $89,999, for instance. But, given that the retail price in the US is line ball with the other competitors, it's doubtful that they'd be able to sell it here for much less than the opposition.
I do think that we're very close to ‘peak truck' in terms of sales here in Australia.