We Americans have long been obsessed with our cars, but when it comes to a truly loyal vehicle, it’s the pickup truck that sets our hearts aflutter. It turns out that things like towing capacity and payload can actually make the engine work. Trucks represent 20 percent of U.S. sales this year, more than cars. In fact, pickups (Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado, and Ram Pickup) accounted for three of the five best-selling vehicles this year.
Take Ford’s F-Series. It has been America’s best-selling truck for four decades. Just how important are they to Ford’s bottom line? We asked CEO Jim Farley: “The F-Series is the second most valuable consumer product behind the iPhone. It’s huge.
“This is a modern horse,” he told Cowan. “It’s your trusted companion. You can work with it, you can have fun with it, you can go anywhere with it. It’s an American way of life.”
Pickups are most popular in states you might expect—Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota, and the like—where construction, farming, and shipping are a way of life. But there are also many marine pickups. Suffice it to say, you can’t get those big sales numbers just by selling pickups in the Red States. According to JD Power, it’s Millennials who buy the most new trucks these days, and yes, some people don’t want to haul anything more than a bag of groceries.
One young pickup truck driver told CBS News, “I don’t necessary it’s for everything. I can drive anything. I just drive it to get from point A to point B.”
The number of women interested in pickups is also increasing every year. “Do you need a truck, or do you like their style?” Cowan asked a woman attending the Texas Auto Show at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.
“I love blue!” he laughed.
The midsize truck market is also growing, as are Chevy’s Colorado, Ford’s Ranger, and GMC’s Canyon. Even though they are smaller, they can be just as talented. And of course, all-electric pickups are no longer a fantasy. While they’re still far from a farmer’s friend, it’s another sign that pickups aren’t going anywhere.
But when it comes to the question of why—why we like something with four wheels and a bed so much—it’s a lot like asking why people like hot dogs at baseball games; are American trucks, and like hot dogs, you better not get between a hungry fan and their mustard.
“I’ve seen more truck fights over what truck you drive than I have,” said Tim Esterdahl, publisher of Pickup Truck + SUV Talk. “I mean, it’s racing, right? There’s no country song on a Camry!”
Esterdahl said the buyers seemed particularly excited about the idea of continuing to carry Jones: “We want bragging rights,” he said. “When Ram came up with its new truck, the Heavy Duty, it has a thousand foot-pounds of torque— one thousand pounds of torque! – So you all want to buy that truck! You say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a thousand foot-pounds of torque. You will never use it. I have no idea how come to use it. But I got it!'”
Behind the wheel of the Ram 1500 TRX, you probably won’t be on your way to drop the kids off at school. But to own one you have to dig deep; they start around $80,000. And GMC’s all-electric super-truck, the Hummer EV, costs over $100,000. You might not need all of its off-road capability, but to people like Reka Williams, checking out a model at the Texas Auto Show, that’s beside the point: “It’s not about what you need; it’s about what you love is what you do. have fun, you deserve what you deserve, okay? And you know what, honey? I deserve it!”
The biggest capability that many trucks boast these days is the amount of luxury. Esterdahl said, “I was at a press conference for Ram once. They brought out a new truck. And I went up to the CEO and said, ‘I didn’t know if you were talking about a big truck or a Chanel bag. . .'”
Soft leather, heated windows, and panoramic sunroofs are all modern truck opulences that have some old Texas rancher like Pat Mackey cracking his farmer’s stove: “I mean, I’ve never seen anybody get up in the sun and rope. the top will come out, so I don’t need the sun and all that stuff.”
While bigger may be better on the ranch, it may not be better in traffic. Some of the biggest trucks these days have grills so stiff and so high, critics fear they create a blind spot, creating a blind spot for bicyclists, pedestrians, and especially children.
Cowan asked Ford executive Ted Cannis, “They seem to be getting bigger and bigger and bigger every year. Are they?”
“Well, over time, they’ve grown,” he replied. “Cabins were big. Two rows of seats, better for families and people transportation.”
Cannis points out that many trucks today (including Ford’s) have technologies like pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking — all pretty high-tech stuff for a truck.
The trucks we knew were like domestic dogs. Sleek but with character, it offers a two-tone look with rust. And the dash was just a place for smoke.
That legacy still exists; The trucks remain a symbol of Dust Bowl determination. But these days you can dress them up (or dress them up), tear down walls or save Wall Street. Not bad for something that Henry Ford once envisioned as just a way to save some money.
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Story by Dustin Stephens. Compiler: George Pozderec.