STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Sonari Glinton looks at what small truck sales mean for the overall economy.
SONARI GLINTON: Unidentified Man #3: Holy smoke, available in the full sized Tundra. The truck that's...
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIALS)
GLINTON: To get the feel for the truck market, you have to go where trucks are sold. In this case, northern Virginia.
SAM BUTLER: I'm Sam Butler, and I work at Koons of Manassas. And my title is sales consultant.
GLINTON: Make no mistake, Sam Butler is a salesman. And with his silver hair and gracious smile, he could sell the devil an oven, but he specializes in GM trucks.
BUTLER: All of them look nice. I mean you can take and dress a truck up to where you'd wonder if it is a truck. You know, you put big wheels on it. You can put running boards on it. You could put a chrome package on it.
GLINTON: That adds to your bottom line right?
BUTLER: Oh yeah, all that adds to your bottom line. Yeah, it's not free. Yeah, but that's where a fella decides, do I need that or do I not need it? You know.
GLINTON: Butler says what a truck buyer needs and wants tells you about the economy. Because it tells you about what small business owners, farmers and entrepreneurs are doing.
BUTLER: Say a fella realizes his dream in life and he can start a company. Well, all of sudden he realizes well I need a truck, maybe, to help me out here to haul things around.
GLINTON: In the years since the economic collapse, fewer people have been starting businesses and buying trucks. Vehicle sales last year were the lowest in the U.S. since 1982. And pickup sales were especially depressed. The small businessmen who were Butler's customers have been holding out on upgrading their trucks. But this year, customers began returning.
BUTLER: When they feel comfortable about the economy, then that gives them, you know, the feeling inside that well hey we can take the next step now. And the next step might be to secure a truck for their business or whatever.
GEORGE PIPAS: The economy is still weak, but at least people have come to the conclusion that it's not going to get much worse.
GLINTON: George Pipas is a sales analyst at Ford. He watches truck sales for the company. Pipas says when pick up sales were at their worst, that was a sign of just how bad the economy had gotten.
PIPAS: The small business owners which buy a lot of pickup trucks we're deferring their purchase to preserve cash and keep their business afloat.
GLINTON: And they kept deferring and kept deferring. That is until this year. Now they're buying trucks again, but only because they are replacing worn out old ones. Replacing a truck for an existing customer is not as profitable as luring in lots of new customers to buy trucks for the first time. Dealers say, during the peak of the housing boom five years ago, new faces were coming into the showroom all the time. And a lot of them were driving away in their first trucks. Again, Ford's George Pipas.
PIPAS: Keep in mind that in 2004 and 2005 two and half million pickups were sold in the United States. And this year about half as many will be sold.
GLINTON: So this spike, you don't see this as like a return to the salad days.
PIPAS: No, no, not anywhere - no, no, no.
GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.