Allison Turner was sure she would never need a van. After all, she only had one child. But then she discovered carpools when she took her child to the Baptist Church School on Magdalena Road. How would she fit all the other children in when her turn came?
This year she bought a Chevrolet Lumina and hasn't regretted it once. "We love the van. There is nothing a car can do that this van can't," she said.
Millions of Americans agree with her. The biggest change in the automobile market in the last 15 years is the shift toward light trucks - vans, sport-utility vehicles and pickups. It's a shift in vehicle ownership that shows no sign of slowing down.
In 1981, light trucks made up 21 percent of the market, by 1995 their share doubled to 41 percent. But there's more. Automobile company statistics reporting in the Wall Street Journal show car sales to the end of October this year were down 4.1 percent from last year, while light truck sales were up 6.6 per cent.
So why the change? Look in a Car and Driver magazine ad in 1970 and the average pickup truck was $2,800. It was a six-cylinder standard shift with no power steering. It had bench seats with vinyl upholstery and rubber floor mats. It drove like a truck.
Visit a new car dealer's showroom and you can see trucks and vans are now well appointed. Pick-up trucks have leather seats and all the luxury items you find in a luxury car are available in a pickup truck. Even the Bose stereo system sounds better in a pickup. More important, a light truck is a lifestyle. When you go to Tahoe for a ski jaunt, there's room for the skis, you travel in comfort and you can pull a trailer through the snow with safety.
"Lifestyles of the boomers embrace a light truck," said David Manian, a salesman on a Chevrolet showroom. They view their sport-utility vehicle like their parents viewed a sports car. Only a sport-utility is much more practical to own and drive."
One look at the Ford Motor Company sales catalog will note how the station wagon, once a symbol of suburban life has been pushed to the fringe of the market.
Ford Motor Co. makes the Taurus and the Sable station wagons and even though these wagons can carry eight persons, they have no room for luggage or storage.
By contrast, a van can carry seven in relative comfort and still have a storage area behind the third row of seats for luggage, sports equipment, animal carriers or whatever. The other big vehicle losers are the luxury cars.
"Sport-utes(sport-utility vehicles) are becoming a status symbol of success," Manian said. "The boomers want the flexibility to be able to do the sporty things. Another reason for the change is the number of women who choose to drive sport-utes or vans."
The car company that kicked off the light-truck revolution was Chrysler when it introduced the minivan in 1983. That was million minivan sales ago. In 1987, Chrysler acquired American Motors and got the Jeep product line. Several years later, Chrysler quit making station wagons.
Chrysler looked for a hole in the market and came up with a winner, a people mover, intended for young families and women drivers
Truck pickup sales have increased because of a different lifestyle. More the macho lifestyle with a gun rack and a gun on the rear window, this vehicle has a growing demand by the suburban crowd.
So what will it be like 15 years from now? Will we all be driving minivans, sport-utes or light pickup trucks?
A Car and Driver article discussed this being a raging debate within the industry. Some people think light trucks will top out at half the market. Others think the trend will continue. Whatever happens, some cars will never be outclassed by any upstart truck. There will always be room for a BMW, a Mercedes, a Lexus, Cadillac or an Infiniti according to luxury car owners. Those luxury car owners will also have a second car which will be the light truck.