As the price of fuel spirals up and the economy worsens, urban consumers are fleeing the pickup truck market, leaving deals for farmers who need big, work-quality trucks to get through their daily chores.

Bargain prices

Farmers can find dozens of large pickup deals available. For example, a large advertisement in major metropolitan newspapers showed 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pickups that were first priced at $34,460 being offered at $25,695, with 0% interest for loans up to 72 months.

The same ad section showed 2008 Ford F-150s ranging from $20,398 for Super Cab XLT models to $21,394 for Super Crew XLTs — both reduced by more than $14,000.

Price of the Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab SXT 4 × 4 was reduced from $34,575 to $19,995, also with 0% interest on 71-month loans. Prices of the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan have been reduced from the mid-$30,000 range to the lower $20,000s, with similar incentives.

What happened

For the past couple of decades, thousands of city dwellers found status in having a large sport-utility vehicle (SUV) or the biggest and baddest pickup truck in the neighborhood. Those customers drove the price of large pickups to well beyond $30,000. By extending or doubling the size of the cabs, manufacturers could fill large pickups with fancy comforts that could turn them into the equivalent of luxury sedans, with an equally high price. Manufacturers' coffers ran full.

The Ford full-size F-series pickup reigned as the number-one-selling vehicle in the U.S. The Chevrolet Silverado pickups were a strong second, and with the affiliated GMC pickups added in, the Chevy-GMC combination equaled or surpassed the Fords. Dodge wasn't far behind, and there was room for other large pickups, such as the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra.

Then prices at U.S. fuel pumps climbed to more than $4.00/gal. Americans changed their vehicle-buying habits. They went from large trucks and SUVs to compact crossover SUVs or sedans. Sales of large pickups plummeted through November and December of 2007, and they continued the downturn in all of 2008.

General Motors, which had introduced a new model of its pickups for the 2008 model year on the tailpipes of new large SUVs built on the same platforms, closed some truck-producing plants, threatened to close more, laid off workers, and tried extreme incentives in an attempt to help dealers move the trucks and SUVs standing idle at their dealerships.

Ford delayed its introduction of an all-new F-150 until the end of summer 2008. Dodge and Chrysler also cut back, even as Dodge was introducing its new Ram pickup and Durango and Chrysler was introducing the Aspen SUV. Nissan subtly announced that its next-generation Titan pickup would be built by Dodge, based on the new Ram. That was an enormous announcement, since Nissan had built a facility in the U.S. to build the Titan, and another one to build its engines. Toyota followed by saying it would curtail production of the powerful new Tundra at its Indiana facility and would make it only in San Antonio, with cutbacks there. It then increased production of the Prius and other hybrid cars to meet the sudden demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Ford is readying new engine technology in its new F-150. Dodge has come up with a proven winner with its new Hemi Hybrid. Dodge came out with a popular cylinder deactivation feature on its powerful Hemi V8 engine, which deactivates four cylinders for low-load cruising. Having worked on a two-mode hybrid system, where a battery pack supplies electric motor power to augment the gas engine power, with GM, Mercedes and BMW, Dodge was prepared to unveil its redesigned Ram with the Hemi Hybrid. It will use both cylinder deactivation and hybrid technology to get more than 20 mpg in real-world driving.

Farmers who truly need those trucks for their livelihoods may have to pay more for fuel, but they will be in a position to win big when it comes to initial truck cost and price of operation. And, as they say, winning two out of three ain't bad.