While economic reports paint a mixed picture of the economy, automakers say their principal indicator seems to be on the upswing.
Sales of new pickups, which are closely tied to new housing construction and sales, appear to be picking up as 2012 heads into the final quarter, auto executives said Thursday at the Texas State Fair Auto Show media preview.
"We're starting to see an uptick in demand for houses and for trucks," said Fred Diaz, chief executive of the Ram Trucks division of Chrysler Group.
Similarly, Ford truck sales were up 10 percent in the first six months of the year, increasing to an 11.5 percent gain in July and August, said Dave Mondragon, general marketing manager for Ford. Mondragon also attributed the gains to improved housing activity.
The executives look for any modest economic boost to translate to truck sales, noting that the average pickup on the road is now more than a decade old.
For a change, this year's State Fair offers little in the way of new truck models for the mainstream buyer to see. Ram kicked off the media day by revealing its new heavy-duty pickup and chassis cab trucks, but those are work vehicles with specific customer bases.
General Motors officials could only tease the media about their line of 2013 trucks.
Ford officials say some of the tens of thousands of former pickup drivers, who switched to cars for better fuel economy amid high pump prices, are coming back for the latest generation of fuel-efficient trucks.
Ford has sold more than 200,000 F-150s this year with a highly fuel-efficient EcoBoost engine, a V-6 that sips gas but is turbocharged to deliver V-8 power on demand.
As much as anything, the "it's all about trucks" theme that usually dominates the fair is mostly missing as automakers tout their cars and fuel economy.
Every manufacturer, it seems, can tout a "best in class" fuel sipper somewhere in its lineup.
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