For example, the profit margin on a Cadillac Escalade SUV or an "optioned-up" Ford F-350 could run $10,000 to $12,000, he said.

The closely matched 2011 Ford F-250, Dodge Ram 2500 and Chevrolet Silverado have manufacturers' suggested retail price ranges of $28,415 for the Chevy on the low end to $31,875 for the Ford on the high side.

A culprit for the sales decline is gas prices. The prospect of $4 per gallon fuel is seen as a sort of psychological tipping point in car buyers' minds when it comes to deciding on a full-size pickup or a mid-sized or small car, at least for use as a commuting vehicle or grocery-getter.

Full-sized pickups offered by Ford, GM's Chevy and Chrysler's Dodge Ram average about 14.3 miles per gallon, versus about 28 mpg from the Toyota ( TM) Camry, a family sedan.

Assuming a consumer uses a tank of gas a week, at $4 a gallon, it would cost $104 to fill up a Ford F-150 pickup and $74 for the Camry, and that $30-a-week difference in a household budget now is a big gap for many families.

Toprak says Ford and GM executives have said, and it likely applies to Chrysler, that sales outside the U.S. is where their future growth lies and that the domestic market will continue to shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. That will push companies to offer a more balanced product portfolio.

Ford, for example, has made big steps to improve fuel efficiency, as it offers a modified V-6 for its pickups and new high-tech powertrains, both of which have boosted mileage while keeping the performance of many of its larger vehicles.

"The good news is that all of these companies are recognizing that they need to change," said Toprak, and they are putting management teams in place that can respond to meet consumer demand.

Indicative of the turmoil in the once-staid industry, on Tuesday, Chrysler shuffled its executive ranks, replacing its U.S. sales chief and the head of the Dodge brand, even though its sales are up 19.5% this year through May.

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