Truck-buyer loyalty gives companies such as Ford — which started building pickups in 1925, 40 years before Toyota sold its first pickup in the U.S. — a real edge. Last year, 36 percent of F-150 buyers traded in an F-150, according to Edmunds.com. That's better than the loyalty rate for Toyota's best-selling Camry sedan.
When Toyota's first big pickup came out in the early 1990s, it didn't measure up to the F-series, Chevrolet Silverado or Chrysler's Ram. Sales in 2006 were just under 125,000, compared to nearly 800,000 Ford F-series trucks sold.
But Toyota had its sights set on Detroit. The 2007 Tundra had a brawnier look, larger bed and 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower V-8. It was heavier, and its towing capacity increased. Toyota predicted sales of 200,000 a year. In 2007 it came close, selling almost 197,000.
Detroit soon updated its pickups with powerful, more efficient engines, new transmissions and innovative features. Then the financial crisis and recession hit, and truck sales fell. Tundra sales hit a low of 79,000 in 2009. About 102,000 Tundras were sold last year, less than one-sixth of Ford's 645,000.
The Detroit Three zealously defend the pickup turf. Big pickups make up about 30 percent of Ford's U.S. sales and nearly a quarter of GM's. Companies make $5,000 to $10,000 per truck, says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Detroit uses that cash to develop new cars and, it hopes, win back customers it's been losing to the Japanese for 30 years.