How the Light Pickup Became America's Best Seller

Eduardo Porter traces the American preference for light trucks back to a tariff against frozen chicken back in 1961.
September 12, 2008, 2pm PDT | Tim Halbur
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"the Ford F-Series pickup did not rule the roost as the nation's best-selling vehicle, on an annual basis, from 1981 to last year just because gas was cheap. Its ascent required a helping hand from Uncle Sam. As Washington scrambles for a policy to achieve the incompatible goals of making fuel cheaper and making Americans use less of it, it might consider the twisted tale of how four-wheel-drive gas hogs became Detroit's best sellers.

It started in 1961 with chicken. Trying to stop a surge of chicken imports into Germany, the European Common Market bowed to the European poultry lobby and almost tripled the tariff on frozen chicken from the United States. Washington, of course, struck back. In 1963, it raised tariffs on a range of European products: brandy to hit the French; dextrine, a food and glue component, to hit the Dutch.

To target Germany, the Johnson administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on light-truck imports, a barrier that fell on Volkswagen, which exported vans to the United States."

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Published on Thursday, September 11, 2008 in The New York Times
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