Keep on truckin’

The “Vegas market has seen just a little sunshine in the last few months,” says Darren Pryor, a division manager at Friendly Ford in Las Vegas.

Why? Because U.S. vehicle sales rose 10 percent in September 2011 compared to the year before — the fastest sales pace since April — and automakers expect sales to continue at that pace for the remainder of the year, according to Autodata Corp.

And while the march of sales in Southern Nevada — ground zero of the Great Recession — may lag a bit, those sales are still up.

And what with a gallon of gasoline costing a dollar more than it did a year ago, family buying power being down and all the government-sponsored publicity and subsidies urging people to “go green,” the biggest growth has been in smaller, energy-efficient electric and hybrid vehicles, right?

No. Americans are buying the vehicles they’ve always wanted. Nearly 54 percent of the vehicles sold last month were trucks and SUVs — good news for automakers, because they have higher profit margins on the big guys.

Truck sales at GM, Chrylser and Ford grew in the double digits, outpacing cars. Even Honda, which normally sells primarily cars, sold 3,000 more trucks than cars in September.

The Friendly Ford division that Mr. Pryor heads up? Trucks, of course.

Ford truck sales in Nevada and Arizona are up 115 percent from last year, he says. And the Ford F-150, with its “EcoBoost” turbo-charged V-6 engine — running $25,000 to $55,000 — represents 40 percent of sales. Yes, that engine is efficient. But it’s not a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt.

There are some contributing factors to the sales numbers. Following the March earthquake, tsunami and partial nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan, Japanese automakers are still behind in delivering cars to fill showrooms here. And with the average truck on the American road now 10.1 years old, fleet owners can’t wait any longer to replace aging vehicles that will start to need more and more repairs.

But the conclusion is inescapable: Despite ongoing economic uncertainty, Americans are out buying big vehicles. Detroit wins. The economy wins. A win for those who insist Americans want to escape the tyranny of fossil fuel and instead putter about in glorified, fuel-efficient golf carts that squash like bugs?

Not so much.

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