Bizarre Love Triangle

No sneering at the back, these machines drive America.

2022 Ford F-150. Image: ford.com

Today we peer closely at those bread and butter US sales machines – Chevrolet’s Silverado, RAM, a Stellantis brand now separate from mothership, Dodge and the ever-ubiquitous F-150 from Ford.

Spare a thought for those salespeople spread across the land – brand loyalty no longer fully applies – given sales no longer. Once dyed in the wool Chevy fans (for instance) have now taken up the Ford mantle – or even headed elsewhere. Belay playing the Stradivarius, forebear opening those saline ducts, but if you do nothing else today, control your ire – pick-up truck sales have been diminished by the overbearingly buoyant mid and compact crossover segments. But the Big Three (with a smattering of assistance from four minnows) still managed to shift 980,000 units for the first half of 2022.

Starting with the darker leagues, the electrically powered Hummer managed 371 sales, placing seventh. One place up with 11,212 being the possibly soon to die Nissan Titan. Fifth position is taken by the recently re-designed Tundra from Toyota managed a credible 44,316. GMC’s Sierra punches the 118,938 ticket. A pause for the podium places, please. Starting the year in second spot, RAM drop to bronze – 244,983. Taking silver, appropriately enough is the Silverado at 261,828 with gold awarded yet again to F-150: 299,345. Percentages and the like are not your author’s forte, but that’s an impressive figure for anyone. Yet figures overall are down.

Leader for the last 43 years, Henry’s lot started to perspire a little as the competition edges ever closer. Figures that would induce cardiac arrest or whoops of joy within other areas of the industry are the norm over in the States. This business is highly profitable. Following the American rationale of God, Family, Country, Pick-up (not necessarily in that order) one has to delve deeper to understand such prolific success. 

1978 CAFE restrictions actually opened up the floodgates. The pick-up had always been a staple but now had chance to breathe deeper and with it become more of an all rounder – both working and playing hard, upping the ubiquitous ante.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado. Image: chevroletoffers.ca

Fast forward to the current time. All of the big three offer a basic model starting at around $30,000[1]. The options list then becomes bewildering; customisation is clearly king. As is the pride felt by both manufacturer and customer alike when shifting such large quantities – it really does pay to listen to your customers – and get stuck in.

Taking that view closer is Chevrolet’s creative designer, Tyler Moffat. Regardless of his seniority and complimentary company car, when not corralling the teams towards the next version of the Silverado, you’re likely to find him, wrench in hand, under the hood. Examples of a score years or more of both Suburban and Blazer lies in the Moffat garage; getting down and dirty with the older stuff giving him understanding along with that nuanced feel that makes a Chevy pick-up: “Heritage and intangible clear lines. And that stance,” sayeth he.

2022 RAM 1500. Image ramtrucks.com

The argument against: Pick-up’s all look the same – just as any given segment of car does not. A cab and load base do admittedly make for similar outward appearances. RAM, however beg to differ. Head of Board, Mike Koval sees the brand as the underdog of the pick-up world. “Not literally but figuratively as we push and inspire the competition,” and Koval, along with his team should know. 

Aged just 14, Canadian-American Ralph Gilles posted drawings to one Lee Iacocca which led to art college and later becoming RAM’s Head Designer. Along with competition winner, Mark Trostle, Exterior Design. Trostle entered the Drive for Design, an opportunity for youngsters to submit their artwork for critical review. Revived in 2013 and annually since, Trostle believes the future of RAM design lies in tomorrow’s youth. And with the current classes having names like Tradesman, Express and Warlock, a solid silver casting of the word Rampant would sit easily on its load bed.

Ford F-150. Image: ford.com

Heading over to those wearing oval blue, the weight of being number one is shared by many shoulders. Chief Designer, Ehab Kaoud refutes any kind of easy path to maintain that sales position, “Purely and simply, it begins with the driver”, he maintains. His team began to assess the needs of the MY2021 three years previously. A staggering 18,000 photographs were taken of existing F-150s in attempts to glean what could be either freshened up or simply made better. Such a gallery, known as Pride in the Truck was combined with an 1,800 page dossier containing the facts gleaned from customer clinics. “Whether you’re a single truck buying guy or a big fleet, we had to listen to our customers wants and needs. Our trucks have to work as hard as their operators. And that includes lunch.

Image: ford.com

Kaoud refers there to a Paul Matta rendition of an interior showing burger, fries and the laptop – essentials all for the typical but by no means average, truck user. Developing into the gear lever stowing away flat, along with a suitable surface to perch the means to check emails or catch up with the next client/the game/the weather whilst consuming human heavy fuel. 

Personalisation and details. The inevitable touchscreen can be operated wearing gloves. A small recess allows the hand’s heel to act as anchor point to use the screen whilst driving. American flags in relief above air vents with a map of Detroit found in King Ranch models showing a heartfelt pride. Storage areas of varying sizes, lockable. The onboard generator takes up an underbody area suitcase sized. And stance, “clamped to the ground, 20mm wider than previous to enhance strength with the wheels flush to the body. 

Add two final attributes all three protagonists believe in – reliability and availability – keys to those all important return sales. Desirability remains strong. Take an afternoon to spec one up with another to check out the talented competition, as the big three constantly do. Love isn’t blind – it’s all American pick-up shaped.

Measurement Statistics (most basic models – from here on in, everything gets bigger)

RAM: L; 209”, W; 79.4”, H; 74.6” wheelbase 120”. Front suspension; short and long arm. Rear; multi link 

Silverado: L; 237”, W; 81.1”, H; 75.6”, wheelbase 147” . Front suspension; Independent. Rear; solid axle.

F-150: L; 209”, W; 95.7”, H; 75.6”, wheelbase 122.8” . Front suspension; Independent with double wishbones. Rear; leaf spring with solid axle.

[1] RAM Tradesman $29,650, Ford F-150 $31,520, Silverado $34,600

Data Sources: Carsalesbase.com, motortrend.com, interview with Ehab Kaoud at formtrends.com

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

12 thoughts on “Bizarre Love Triangle”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. Thank you for todays article. I like pick-up trucks as much as I loathe SUV’s.

    One of my favorite car-related (should that be truck-related) memories is driving a Dodge RAM 1500 on the dirt roads in Finland in winter. Heating on, rumbling V8 up front, mostly unaware of what goes on with the wheels and tires. The truck made me feel it was dependable and it would take care of me, no matter what. It did just that. It got me anywhere I wanted to go without drama.

    Pick-up trucks are now a relatively common sight on the Dutch road. Since these are taxed as commercial vehicles is suddenly is an interesting proposition for small businesses. Their size isn’t ideal for Dutch roads in cities and parking spaces and they are the polar opposite of what public opinion wants us to drive.

    Yet, I am still tempted by these vehicles. Driving without a care in the world, listening to that V8 or Guy Clark or Townes van Zandt on the stereo. It would be alright as long as I don’t have to pay the fuel bill 😉

  2. Good morning Andrew. Like Freerk, I very much like pick-up trucks and actually owned one, a Ford Ranger, for the best part of a decade. It was a thoroughly useful and practical vehicle and I carried a wide variety of building materials and junk in it, the sort of stuff that would really mess up an estate car’s interior, without a worry. (A rigid load bay liner was essential, but annoyingly, an expensive option.) Mine looked like this one:

    That said, I’m baffled by the sheer size of full-size American pick-ups. Surely no private user has that much stuff to haul around? Of course, they have huge appeal for many Americans, invoking romantic images of the great outdoors and the early frontiersmen and women who made new lives for themselves in America.

    For those readers who may not be familiar with CAFE, to which you refer in your piece, it stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy. In order to reduce the country’s consumption of gasoline, in 1975 the US Congress passed legislation that mandated manufacturers to achieve a minimum average MPG figures across their ranges of passenger cars.

    For those manufacturers who failed to meet this minimum MPG target, a penalty tax was levied. This currently stands at $14 for every 0.1mpg below the CAFE target, multiplied by the manufacturer’s total US domestic sales.

    However, pick-up trucks, even double-cab models bought by private buyers for domestic use, were regarded as commercial vehicles and excluded from the calculation of the average MPG. The unintended consequence of this was a huge boom in both the production and popularity of pick-up trucks.

  3. Having spent time being driven around Toronto suburbs by my wife’s’ brother in one of his Rams, I can see they make perfect sense. Very fuel-efficient too, since it only uses all eight cylinders when you’re at a stop light next to an F 150.

  4. These types of vehicles would be er sell as they do unless the Americans let them through the loopholes.

    1. Gas prices has traditionally been half or a third than that of Europe, the rear of the world subsidizes the American use of gas guzzlers with higher prices. And I would do the same! If I could drive a three ton truck for the same gas money as my Citroën Nemo van I would do that just because it’s more fun.

    2. Because they are thought of as commercial vehicles they don’t have to follow the CAFE rules. But it is clearly a loophole? Sales would drop ar least five fold if private buyers without a company/commercial license had to pay the CAFE gas guzzler tax.

    3. Because they are commercial vehicles, they don’t have to follow any sort of crash standard. Yes it’s true, these trycks are completely excempt from any rules concerning crash safety. And if course that means they can be made cheaper than cars, because they don’t have to be built to such a high safety standards. If trucks had to follow the stringent rules as the rest of the cars, prices would go up to where they really belong and demand would go down.

    As is, this loophole has been an easy way for Americans to drive around in land yachts on expense of exactly everyone else around them.

  5. Good morning, Andrew. Interesting perspective on pickups, coming from across the pond.

    First, a comment about the market leader. There are many who claim that Ford’s F-150 is *not* the best-seller since the Chevrolet and GMC pickups essentially differ only in trim and where they’re sold (I’ve heard the claim that GMC exists so Buick dealers can sell trucks). Adding the Silverado and Sierra sales figures together dwarfs Ford’s F-150 output.

    Daniel’s comment on Americans surely not having enough belongings to require a pickup truck does not account for two elements: 1) the ability of these vehicles to be filled up with crew and their gear and still tow substantial amounts of tools/product or a caravan or whatever; and 2) while many Americans may not have enough *belongings* to justify a pickup, they do have enough personal, uhh, *baggage*. Having a vehicle that overshadows almost everything else on the road short of a box truck or semi confers power and superiority, and if it’s one of those US$80,000 King Ranch models, even more so.

    And Ingvar is absolutely right in that pickups and truck-based SUVs benefited from not being included in efficiency and safety regulations in the U.S. and that everyone has been paying for that indirectly. Mass wins in collisions. These trucks are so high that the bumper height mandated for cars provided no protection as pickup trucks’ bumpers sail right over it in a collision. They’ve finally started to look at legislation to protect pedestrians who encounter the cliff-like grilles of these trucks in accidents. Exemption from fuel efficiency standards and cheap fuel made it possible to tolerate getting 8 mpg (29 l/100 km) around town. The bulk of pickups even drove the adoption of SUVs and CUVs as people joined an arms race to sit higher up and see. Even the “chicken tax” imposed decades ago favored domestic production by putting a tariff on imported pickup trucks. After all, what’s good for GM is good for the nation, eh?

    1. Sorry steveinmn, I just discovered your comment looking sorry for itself amid the spam folder detritus and reinstated it. The ever-perplexing mysteries of WordPress…

  6. I have to say, the average driver of the American pickup must just have a different mindset to myself. I can understand the draw of an excessively large car with lots of space and luxury (otherwise why would I drive a P3 XC70), but at the point where small children and animals can simply disappear below the hoodline I have to begin to wonder about boring concerns like, oh I dunno, safety and stopping distances.

    Consumer Reports just ran an article about such issues and while I often get on them for being a bunch of self-biasing nannies, they make compelling points regarding the sheer size and weight of these behemoths that now share the roads with all of us. It’s perhaps no wonder that nearly every manufacturer has abandoned the B-segment in the United States and that C-segment sedans today dwarf the D-segmenters of the ’90s. Add onto that the common practice of lifting pickups and adding silly aftermarket wheels and it just seems like a major safety hazard in any case.

    Worse still are the new breed of EV trucks: the new EV Hummer can do 0-60 in 3 seconds and weighs 9000 lbs (~4000 kg). Yes, perhaps I sound like a bit of a Debbie Downer here, but when regular-sized pickups could do all the jobs asked of them in the ’80s-2000s what actual purpose is there to the size bloat? The mid-size trucks (Ranger, Colorado, Tacoma/Hilux, etc.) are all the size where base F150s, Silverados, and Rams used to be and are all the rest of the world seems to need. I have trouble conceptualizing the idea of piloting what is practically an aircraft carrier down any suburban street, let alone a slightly narrow urban alley.

    1. Good morning Alexander. That’s an extraordinary photograph and illustrates the crazy scale of full-sized American pick-ups. Most will be driven around for much of the time with nothing in the load bay, which is madness.

    2. I’m with you, Alexander – and further comment would be superfluous! (from me, that is….)

    3. The ‘too big to fit’ syndrome might be why the new Ford Maverick, a unibody pick-up based on Ford’s C2 platform used in the Focus, is such a smash hit. Not that it’s Focus sized, it’s still 5+ metres long.
      This one parked next to a Ford Ranger for size comparison.

    4. Raising the question of who got to determine what constitutes “full-size” in the first place. “Full-size” in 1992 was nowhere near as big as today’s trucks have become. Maybe calling the current models “super size” is more descriptive and more in keeping with their powers of projection.

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