Domestic Luxury Trucks Now Usurping Germany’s Market Share of Premium Vehicles

2018 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate Black Edition

We did it! Thanks to the modern obsession with larger vehicles and opulence, domestic luxury brands are taking off like a rocket. It’s going so well, in fact, that American automakers are starting to steal market share from high-end import manufacturers. Of course, this is only applicable to SUV and crossover sales.

As you know, sedan sales are losing ground to their high-riding counterparts. While this hasn’t resulted in the obliteration of the passenger car market, despite claims to the contrary, those vehicles are being massacred by wayward consumers. Sedans are becoming passé and this has allowed sport utility and crossover vehicles to amass a significant portion of the pie.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the luxury market. The rapid growth of the luxury truck segment has substantially increased the United States’ share of domestic models sold with an average transaction price of $60,000 or more. Apparently, the inarguably phenomenal Mercedes-Benz S-Class doesn’t have jack squat on the GMC Yukon Denali.

Suck it, cars. 

Obviously, we don’t truly believe that. Even with SUV sales blasting off into the stratosphere, sedans are coming off an absolutely massive share of domestic light vehicle sales. Even if they were to decline in popularity at their current rate, it would take many years before they became an insignificant portion of the market. We don’t want to be cocky about this, either. Look what’s happened to the minivan segment.

The fact remains that Americans are abandoning family sedans and small cars for sport utility vehicles and trucks. The New York Times estimates that, last month, two of every three new vehicles sold were classified as trucks — either SUVs, crossovers, pickups, or minivans. The trend isn’t exclusive to mainstream nameplates. Luxury brands have been scrambling to flesh out their lineups to account for the shift in preference and domestic manufacturers have done an incredible job.

GMC accounted for 11.3 percent of domestic sales for models with an average price of $60,000 or more in 2017, according to data from Edmunds. Five years earlier, the brand made up a mere 0.1 percent of those sales. Ford and Chevrolet witnessed similar, albeit more modest, increases driven by ultra-premium truck and SUV sales. However, both started with their feet a little deeper in the market.

Meanwhile, the share of the U.S. over-$60,000 club inhabited by Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Jaguar and Cadillac actually shrank by a considerable margin in the same timeframe. Established luxury brands are now losing ground to mainstream automakers in the premium segments. Hell, Ford will sell you a pickup that costs roughly $100,000 now. What a time to be alive!

“We are seeing it,” said Tom Libby, an industry analyst for IHS Markit. “There is movement from luxury cars to luxury trucks.”

It makes sense for automakers to push SUVs as hard as possible, too. They can charge more for them, and the profit margins are far better than that of sedans. In fact, certain cars even lose automakers money. General Motors reportedly loses around $9,000 on every Chevrolet Bolt it sells. While that’s a pretty extreme example (but weirdly common among electric cars), sedans just aren’t making the kind of fast cash that trucks are.

General Motors outlined its plan to produce even more pricey Denali variants for GMC at a recent investor conference. The company highlighted data indicating that the Denali line had an average sale price of $56,000, which is far more than the average transaction price for any of the German luxury brands that aren’t Porsche.

“This thing is a money machine,” said GM president Dan Ammann.

He’s not wrong. Domestic automakers make tens of thousands of dollars on a single well-optioned truck or SUV, and they’re going to milk them for every dime. Ford only started production on the fourth generation of the Expedition, along with the Lincoln Navigator, in September of last year. It has decided to build 25 percent more this year than originally planned.

At the same time, luxury sedan volume is shrinking. These models held roughly 7.5 percent of the total domestic market in in 2013, but that number slipped to 5.4 in 2017. But manufacturers can load up a fairly basic truck with all the trimmings and it suddenly becomes irresistible. Currently, over half of all F-Series sales come from Lariat, King Ranch and Raptor models. That’s up from one-third just four years ago. Meanwhile, Denali editions now account for 29 percent of all GMC’s sales.

[Image: General Motors]