The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

August auto sales: A very good month for pickup trucks and Detroit

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46622 full

A good month for pickup trucks means a good month for Detroit's Big Three — General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford. Although ironically, it was Ford and Chrysler reporting big gains in pickup sales from August of last year, while GM did well with its lineup of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

Longtime GM watchers are still scratching their heads at how a company that, pre-bailout and bankruptcy, had abandoned the small-car market to imports so it could concentrate on the fat profits that trucks and SUVs bring in. GM did okay with its main pickup, the aging Silverado. Just not as well as its Motown rivals.

Pickup truck profits are a good thing, for two reasons. Ford and Chrysler saw double-digit increases, while GM had to settle for the mid-single digits. That's money in the bank for Detroit 's carmakers. Meanwhile, pickups being sold means that contractors are trading in their aging wheels for new sheet metal — and that's a clear signal that the new-home market is regaining some strength. You can't haul stuff to the building site in a pickup that falling apart.

Personally, I've been waiting for a "pickup recovery" for more than a year. I thought pickup sales would push 2011 sales over 13 million vehicles — and we just missed when the sales didn't materialize it quite the way I figured they would.

In terms of all vehicles sold — not just pickups — the Big Three enjoyed double-digit sales gains year-over-year. Toyota and Honda, meanwhile, saw massive upticks, due largely to having out the supply-chain crisis brought on the by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami behind them.

We're at a pace now in the U.S. to see more than 14 million vehicles sold in 2012. That's an improvement of more than a million on 2011, and a far cry from the barely 10 million we managed in 2009 — the worst year anyone in the auto business can remember. We might never get back to the peak of the mid-2000s, when 17 million vehicles were sold. But the market is now approaching a normal level of 15 million or so new vehicles sold annually.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter. And ask Matt questions at Quora.

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