Finance Spending on US infrastructure could create a surge in pickup-truck sales (GM, F, FCAU)

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Morgan Stanley is out with a sprawling analysis of the investment effects of a huge US infrastructure rebuilding plan.

A RAM 1500 pickup. play

A RAM 1500 pickup.

(Matthew DeBord/BI)
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  • Morgan Stanley expects $1 trillion in US infrastructure spending to come online.
  • A big winner if this happens will be pickup trucks, the bank's analysts argue.

Morgan Stanley is out on Monday with a sprawling analysis of the investment effects of a huge US infrastructure rebuilding plan.

"While the [Trump] administration seeks $200 billion of federal funding to hypothetically catalyze a total
investment of $1.5 trillion, and the democratic plans contain $1 trillion in direct federal spending, we believe that the policy debate is likely to coalesce around our base case of $1 trillion in additional spending over 10 years," the bank's team of economists and analysts wrote.

That trillion dollar investment is likely to be very good for a specific category of vehicle that's already seeing booming sales — and delivering fat profits to American automakers: pickup trucks.

"Many investors we speak with don't realize how much pickup demand accounts for the profitability and value of the Detroit [automakers]," the authors wrote. "A 10% move in pick-up truck sales is worth 19% to Ford 2018 EPS and 12% and 7% to General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, respectively."

Pickups need good infrastructure to be driven widely, whereas smaller, urban-oriented vehicles can operate in a more infrastructure-constrained environment. According to Morgan Stanley, the US has under-spent on infrastructure by nearly a trillion bucks since 2010.

Get ready for a pickup-truck war

There was some concern initially that the aluminum construction wouldn't be Ford tough, but truck owners appear to pretty satisfied. play

There was some concern initially that the aluminum construction wouldn't be Ford tough, but truck owners appear to pretty satisfied.

(Ford)

All three carmakers now have new full-size pickups in the market, so that stage is already set for a good old-fashioned pickup truck war, although given sales volumes, it could be a bit of a phony battle. Ford's trucks will stay on top with its F-150, GM's Chevy Silverado will hold down second, and FCA's RAM 1500 will remain in third — although there could be some jostling between Chevy and RAM given that the new 1500 will hit the market first.

The pickup ascendancy actually points to a strange divergence in how the US auto market is perceived versus how it functions.

The headlines are all about electrified and self-driving vehicles, but those categories make up tiny slices of the market today. The Ford F-Series, meanwhile, has been the country's bestselling lineup of vehicles since the 1980s. And the competition from other segments is falling away, as passenger cars are increasingly being pushed aside by SUVs.

That said, the pickups — which are highly profitable — are stocking the coffers of the Detroit Big Three and allowing these companies to make big bets on the future of mobility. If a trillion in infrastructure spending put the pickup boom over the top, then anyone invested in advanced mobility should be lining up to thank the most American of vehicles for funding the transformation in how we get around.