First-Quarter 2021 Sales Report: Trucks And SUVs Surge After Crippling Year, With Some Big Surprises

Sales surged pretty much across the board

First-Quarter 2021 Sales Report: Trucks And SUVs Surge After Crippling Year, With Some Big Surprises
Ford F-Series pressed the advantage from a new F-150, gaining nearly 10 percent from this point last year. (Photo: Ford)

Truck sales are surging from this point in 2020, when the COVID pandemic hammered dealers.

Just over a year ago, states across the nation began to shut down in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with predictable results for new truck and SUV sales. The situation has shifted dramatically in the past three months, and as consumer confidence rebounds (see a recent Reuters report on the subject), so too are sales improving across the board. In some cases, sales for particular models have doubled after slowing to a crawl as the coronavirus gained a months-long stranglehold on the U.S. economy.

Which models led the pack in the first quarter of 2021? You have your usual contenders — the Ford F-150, Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Tahoe and so on — but another key metric here doesn’t just concern the sheer numbers. It’s also about how much a model’s sales rebounded from the first three months of 2020. To that end, the charts below for each segment show total figures, as well as a year-over-year change.

First-Quarter 2021 Sales Report: Trucks And SUVs Surge After Crippling Year, With Some Big Surprises

Midsize truck sales: Tacoma dominates, but a surprising number chose alternatives

ModelYTD 2021 SalesYTD 2020 SalesDifference YoY
Toyota Tacoma66,44953,636+24%
Ford Ranger24,16620,980+15%
Chevy Colorado24,08321,430+12%
Jeep Gladiator18,82215,259+23%
Honda Ridgeline12,5708,125+55%
Nissan Frontier10,78010,280+5%
GMC Canyon7,1444,483+59%

Surprise, surprise, the Toyota Tacoma came out far ahead of its rivals in the sales charts. That’s pretty much always a given. However, the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado and Jeep Gladiator managed to gain ground in their own right so it’s not as much of a demolition as you might expect.

Two big surprises stood out in the midsize segment, though, and those are the Honda Ridgeline and the GMC Canyon. Honda’s managed to find a steady (if unremarkable) customer base, selling a couple thousand units each month. This time around, though, quite a few folks went for the Ridgeline, putting it ahead of the Nissan Frontier. Now, there is a new Frontier on sale soon, so folks holding off also helped the Ridgeline’s fortunes here, but selling over 12,000 examples this quarter is still a noteworthy achievement. The Canyon, for its part, also performed noticeably well, with the largest surge in sales from this point in 2020.

First-Quarter 2021 Sales Report: Trucks And SUVs Surge After Crippling Year, With Some Big Surprises

Full-size trucks: Ford F-Series back on top, GM loses ground

ModelYTD 2021 SalesYTD 2020 SalesDifference YoY
Ford F-Series203,797186,562+9%
GM COMBINED*189,508197,743-4%
Ram Trucks148,836128,805+16%
Chevrolet Silverado 150090,705112,925-20%
Chevrolet Silverado HD33,99930,773+11%
Chevrolet Silverado MD1,8871,036+82%
GMC Sierra 150045,25739,841+14%
GMC Sierra HD17,66013,168+34%
Toyota Tundra19,13421,658-12%
Nissan Titan7,4635,732+30%

By the end of 2020, GM actually managed to overtake Ford, with its combined sales from the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra coming out some 50,000 units ahead of the F-Series. Now, as the Blue Oval rolls out the brand new F-150, that trend has reversed. Sales for the F-Series increased 9%, while GM lost 4% of their total volume thanks to a precipitous drop in Chevy Silverado 1500 sales from this point last year. Bear in mind, both Chevrolet and GMC just revamped their light duty and heavy duty trucks, and they capitalized on that heading into 2020. Now, it’s obviously Ford’s turn to take advantage of an overhauled lineup. In short time, we’ll see the refreshed 2022 Super Duty, in addition to the brand new F-150.

The Toyota Tundra slid 12 percent from this point last year, undoubtedly as potential buyers hold off for the brand new truck. It’s supposedly coming sometime this year, though we may not see the actual production model hit dealers until later in 2021. Nissan’s Titan actually gained some ground as well, though its 30% gain from this point in 2020 still left it trailing behind every other full-size truck in the segment.

Full-size SUVs: Last of the (200 Series) Land Cruisers, Escalade surges

ModelYTD 2021 SalesYTD 2020 SalesDifference
Chevrolet Tahoe23,03820,403+13%
Ford Expedition22,26319,790+13%
Dodge Durango20,56017,805+15%
GMC Yukon18,45814,066+31%
Chevrolet Suburban11,1439,495+17%
Cadillac Escalade9,8425,620+75%
Nissan Armada7,5988,027-5%
Lincoln Navigator4,8323,826+26%
Infiniti QX804,3425,598-22%
Toyota Sequoia2,0371,408+45%
Toyota Land Cruiser1,896614+209%
Lexus LX 5701,340846+58%

Nearly across the board, SUV sales trended upward in the first quarter of 2021. The only exceptions to that were the Nissan Armada (down 5%) and the Infiniti QX80 (down 22%). Nissan did just refresh the Armada which undoubtedly helped its odds, but its luxury counterpart has gone on a full decade without a comprehensive redesign — just a couple facelifts. We’re in a market that’s seeing fresher entries, from GM’s entirely revamped 2021 SUV lineup of the Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade to the still-fairly-new Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator just offer far more compelling appeals to buyers.

That said, there is a wrench in my “QX80 is aging” argument as it pertains to Toyota. You guys are still buying Sequoias in greater numbers than the first part of 2020, but what’s going on with the Toyota Land Cruiser? Sales have doubled from this point last year, but there’s a good reason for that. This is the last year of the current-generation 200 Series. The next Land Cruiser will be a different animal, and the jury’s currently out on whether we’ll see a replacement here in the U.S. Global markets will see a new Land Cruiser, but the nostalgia surrounding the current generation and uncertainty for the future is apparently compelling a growing number of fans to drop at least $85,000 on a Land Cruiser, or on its Lexus LX 570 sibling.