By Jennifer Clark
DETROIT (Reuters) - Pickup truck sales are expected to outpace the broader U.S. auto market this year helped by a recovering housing market and a slew of new models from the three big U.S. automakers, executives and analysts said on Sunday.
Revamped models from General Motors Co
Ford and GM are fierce competitors in the full-size pickup segment where profit margins are larger compared to cars. Pickup trucks made up about 11 percent of the U.S. market last year, well below the historical average of 17 percent.
"The pickup truck sector is poised to outperform the rest of the market this year," said Citi analyst Itay Michaeli at a conference of the Society of Automotive Analysts.
Analysts said gas prices were unlikely to surge this year, which would support truck sales. Micheali said that a mix of pent-up demand and new models will drive pickup sales this year.
GM is counting on a new version of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks to show investors and car buyers that the No.1 U.S. automaker is back on track after its $50 billion U.S. taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009.
GM's new trucks are on view Monday, along with a new RAM 1500 pickup from Chrysler. GM's arch rival in the pickup truck market, Ford, will tease a concept version of its upcoming F-150 truck Tuesday. The F-150 will be built for the 2015 model year.
"The majority of pickup vehicles on the road are about to be redesigned," Micheali said. "The product cycle will unleash demand."
"A TWINKLE IN YOUR EYE"
The beginnings of a recovery in the housing market should drive pickup sales in 2013, said Ford economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, citing a Census Bureau figures showing a sharp increase in people setting up new households.
"This is a fundamental physical foundation for housing recovery," she said. "When you look at the housing recovery, it can put a twinkle in your eye every bit as much as 2013 sales forecasts do."
GM Treasurer Jim Davlin also said he sees the housing market recovering this year, which should help the truck market.
"There's a big correlation between auto sales and housing starts," he said at the conference. "The pickup truck market share is at historical lows. We would expect that to come back."
Cromwick, Michaeli and LMC Automotive's senior vice president of forecasting, Jeff Schuster, said they see U.S. car sales at about 15 million this year. The European market is seen entering its sixth consecutive year of contraction, they all said.
"We see the pickup segment gaining ground," Schuster said. "This year is the year of the pickup truck and the year of the rebound of the premium car sector. I don't think many of us would have thought that a year ago."
(Reporting by Jennifer Clark; Editing by Matt Driskill)