DETROIT — Trucks outsold cars by the highest margin in nearly five years in October, a small sign that the economy may be starting to improve.
These trucks aren’t the tractor-trailers that haul freight. They were vehicles such as pickups, SUVs, minivans, and smaller SUVs, which made up 54 percent of all US vehicle sales according to industry tracker J.D. Power and Associates, while cars made up 46 percent of the market. That’s the biggest margin of difference between the two categories since December 2005, when trucks accounted for 56 percent of sales.
Strong truck sales make economists giddy because it means people are willing to spend money again. Small business owners feel comfortable enough to buy a new pickup truck or delivery van for their company; and regular folks are confident enough in their jobs and finances to take on beefy SUV payments.
Here are some trends behind the stronger truck sales:
■ Gasoline is still affordable. Truck sales have been sensitive to high gas prices in the past, falling dramatically when gas topped $3 and $4 a gallon in 2008 and many drivers were spending over $100 to fill their tanks. After nearly eight straight years of dominating the vehicle sales market, truck sales quickly declined after that gas price spike. Now, gas prices are around $2.80 a gallon, according to AAA.
■ Promotions are helping. Ford, which just ended a zero-percent financing offer on its F-series pickup trucks, saw sales jump 24.2 percent in October.