About This Article:
The following is the "Industry Insider " feature from one of the aftermarket's top trade magazines, Sport Truck & SUV Accessory Business, written by editor Peter A. Hubbard.

Copyright May/June 2000, Sport Truck & SUV Accessory Business. Reprinted by permission.

What will the deluge of luxury pickups, poised to arrive by 2005, do to change the truck accessory market?

When Asian and European automakers look at the American market, the first thing that stands out is the vibrancy of our truck market. But prior to last year, only American manufacturers built full-size, personal-use pickup trucks. Toyota, with its new Tundra, is the only exception to that rule. And it's no coincidence that the Tundra is not built in Japan, but Indiana - the heart of America's farmland.

The reasons are fairly clear. First, Our fuel prices are about the lowest on the planet, making it affordable to drive thirsty V-8 trucks. Second, we have good roads and lots of wide-open spaces where pickups can roam. And third, despite our country's urbanization, much of our national acreage is still populated by farms and ranches - businesses that rely heavily on full-size trucks to perform work functions. Throw in craftsmen, tradesmen and outdoorsmen, and you have a fairly large core market.

But something phenomenal has been happening in the past five or six years. Truck have gone from hick, to chic - thanks in part to the abundance of accessories that make them more attractive and more versatile. As a result, trucks now account for nearly 50 percent of all vehicle sales, and threaten to pass cars in popularity this year.

And with each new model that arrives, it seems the OEMs have added a mix of features or options previously unavailable on trucks. This approach has helped turn trucks into the hottest market segment in the land. As might be expected, zooming truck sales have resulted in zooming profits, too.

So now it appears various foreign manufacturers are finally getting serious about challenging this domestic monopoly on trucks, with a barrage of luxury trucks designed to shift those sales - and profits - in their direction.

Which manufacturers will be building big trucks, and when will they arrive? Will domestic automakers be ready, or will they be caught flat-footed? Will the interest in luxury trucks continue to grow, or will it shrivel up at the first signs of an economy downturn? What can, and will the aftermarket do to prepare for this deluge of new products?

Let's take the questions, one at a time.

Import nameplates will definitely be gracing the flanks of truck from Nissan, and possibly Mercedes and Volkswagen. BMW is also a

possibility, but not a certainty. By handing over Land Rover to Ford, it's clear BMW will be building more variations of its X5 "All Activity Vehicle." At the recent New York Auto Show, BMW board member Helmut Panke promised an entry-level X3, along with other derivatives.

Stehrenberger says...

Our design expert, Mark Stehrenberger says the opportunity to build a luxury truck is currently underway at BMW's California design studio, with input from Germany. He doesn't a expect a styling revolution, but rather a design that's in keeping with the BMW family "look." He also says to look for the modified 4.5-liter V-8 engine from the X5 under the hood, along with electronic traction control

Nissan's decision to build a full-size pickup was also announced in New York, but no details regarding styling direction, design philosophy or production volumes was announced.

According to analyst Jim Hall at AutoPacific in Ann Arbor, MI, "Nissan could be an emerging player in this market, against arch-rival Toyota, but I think they have to be careful how they do it. Renault is calling the shots now, and trying to strengthen the Nissan name. They'll also be able to pull a full-size SUV off the same platform, to compete against the Toyota Sequoia coming this fall.

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