Dude, Where's My Truck? The Great American Truck Shortage

By Teresa Thomerson in Science and Technology On 1st October 2015


Automakers, caught short of fuel-efficient cars when gas prices soared in 2008, now find themselves facing the opposite problem: not enough SUVs and pickups and a surfeit of cars.

Pickup and SUV sales were up 10% in the first five months of the year compared to the same period last year, Autodata reports. Car sales were off 1.3%.

As the summer sales season is about to hit full swing, automakers are canceling vacations and adding shifts at truck plants and still complaining they can't get enough. And they are reducing output at car plants.

General Motors is cutting production at its Orion Township, Mich., plant that makes its Chevrolet Sonic subcompact and Buick Verano compact. Ford cut a shift at the Wayne, Mich., plant that makes the Focus compact.


Honda went further this week, announcing it will no longer make two of its most ecological models, the hybrid and natural-gas versions of the Civic compact. It also suspended, rather than outright killed, another "green" car, the Accord plug-in hybrid.

Meanwhile, Ford says it hopes to produce another 40,000 pickups and SUVs this summer by shortening its normal vacation shutdown period at six assembly plants and another 12 powertrain and stamping plants. Fiat Chrysler says it hopes to run many plants flat-out this summer.

All of the top five vehicles that are spending the fewest number of days on dealers lots before they sell are pickups or crossovers, Truecar.com finds. Each of the five is spending less than 15 days in the hands of dealers, compared to what's considered a healthy industry average of about two months.

Yet three of the five vehicles languishing the longest are cars. Each spent more than four months on dealers' lots in search of a buyer.

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"We're seeing product shortages on some of the big trucks and SUVs," says Eric Lyman, a senior analyst for TrueCar. "We're still in a low-price environment that is driving trucks and (sport) utilities to have an ever-increasing market share."

Automakers are growing increasingly desperate. They not only don't want to pass up sales, but trucks and crossovers generally carry far higher profit margins than cars.

Also, unlike the gas-price run-up of 2008, automakers generally have less overall production capacity so they are not stuck with plants they don't need.

Some of the plants that remain are more flexible in terms of the kinds of vehicles they turn out. They are able to easily switch between crossovers and cars on the same line. Other plants, already working at a breakneck pace as auto sales hit levels not seen in a decade, were able to cut shifts.

Still, automakers are left scrambling trying meet customers' demands. Subaru, whose Outback and XV Crosstrek both made the tightest-supply list with 10 and 15 days respectively on dealers' lots, says it just can't make 'em fast enough.

"We have been trying to build up inventory for a while but dealers keep selling more cars than we can ship," Subaru spokesman Michael McHale says. "It's a high-quality problem, but we hope we can building inventory by September."

Vehicles with highest number of days on dealer lots

Cadillac CTS sedan 137 days

Mazda6 136 days

Mitsubishi Outlander 133 days

Chevrolet Sonic 131 days

Chrysler Town & Country 127 days

Vehicles with shortage number of days on sales lot in May

Subaru Outlback 10

Ford Edge 13

Chevrolet Colorado 13

Toyota Highlander 15

Subaru XV Crosstrek 15