Some of the most profitable vehicles made over the past 20 years of production (from 1990 to 2011) were pickup trucks, with a few pricey European sedans and ubiquitous entry-level nameplates filling out the top 12, according to a recent study by London-based Bernstein Research.
To many this isn't big news, or really anything outside the boundaries of common sense, especially when you consider the criteria. Max Warburton, the study's lead researcher, identified three key characteristics to calculate the top "cash cows" over the past 20 years. As you might expect given their longevity and popularity, the top three spots are full-size pickup trucks.
First, Warburton considered how competitive a vehicle's pricing; second, he factored in sales volume; and third, he considered the vehicle's lifecycle. In order of overall profits, Ford's F-Series came in first, GM's full-size pickups second and the Dodge Ram (and the last two years of Ram Truck) was third. Over the past 20 years, Ford, GM, and Dodge have pulled down more than $110 billion in pretax profits with these full-size players.
Some in the media argue that the attention these automakers have given to their fullsize pickup trucks have made the companies slow to invest in new technologies or to explore better, more advanced and efficient powertrains. We suspect what those critics are really saying is that those companies aren't making more sports cars or cleaner full-size family sedans. (You'd be surprised how many truck bigots there are in the media, or maybe you wouldn't.)
We would argue the exact opposite. Without these vehicles that provide large and predictable amounts of capital, Ford, GM, and Chrysler would not be able to fund future-tech research and development projects, put together advanced concepts, or assign designers and engineers to explore new technologies.
It may sound simple on paper — just keep making the current truck better — but producing a product that buyers want year after year, decade after decade, is a momumental challenge that offers very few success stories. Certainly these three pickup trucks rate among the biggest success stories in the industry but to stay there they'll have to continue pushing the bar forward and higher.
It's worth noting, as well, according to this data, Ford is making a 14.6-percent profit on total revenues, GM 13.3-percent, and Dodge 10-percent. This information bodes well for those of us who want to see the Detroit Three (and all pickup makers) continue to invest in full-size pickups.
The top 12 vehicles, according to Bernstein Research are below.