Driving a pickup truck used to be about as pleasant as riding a steel girder. Unless you needed to haul a horse trailer, a yacht, or 10,000 pounds of fragile masculinity, there was no need to suffer the cheap plastics and bone-jarring ride. It was like using a chainsaw to mow the lawn.
Any of the Big Three automakers will tell you they invented the pickup first, but heavy-duty vehicles with open beds started appearing commercially around the end of WW1. They put horses out of work on farms and helped fuel the roaring consumerism of the 1920s.
But pickup trucks - like blue jeans, plaid shirts, and Carhartt jackets before them - have lately been co-opted as luxury items.
“Ram sells more vehicles over $50,000 than Mercedes-Benz,” says Mike Manley, boss of Ram trucks, over the phone from Detroit. “Every single year, we’ve seen higher transaction prices.” In other words, people are spending more on trucks than ever before.
And for that money, you’re also getting more than just a bare-bones workhorse. It’s been happening for at least a decade, but the luxury-truck trend has really taken off only in the last few years. Some 25 per cent of Ram truck sales are now luxury models, with names like Laramie Longhorn and Limited Tungsten. In Canada, all growth in the truck market is coming at the top end, from trucks over $55,000.
Inside the all-new 2019 Ram, you’ll find real wood and laser-etched leather. The palatial rear seats recline and active noise-cancellation mutes excessive sound. There’s a 12-inch touchscreen on the dash, just like you’d find inside a Tesla. Air suspension means the ride is no longer steel girder-like - it’s comfortable, for probably the first time in the 100-plus year history of the pickup.
Other brands are on exactly the same trajectory. Ford restyled the F-150 to make it look more premium, and the 2019 GMC Sierra has a carbon-fibre pickup bed, among other high-tech features. Even Mercedes-Benz makes a pickup, although they don’t sell it in North America. Yet.
“Lifestyle trucks” is a phrase Manley says often, and one you’ll be hearing more. These $70,000 or $80,000 machines have most of the luxuries you’d find in any German SUV, plus the practicality of a pickup bed - and the handling isn’t rough enough to be a deal-breaker anymore.
It almost seems inevitable. Luxury pickups are a natural evolution of the luxury SUV, a trend which still shows no signs of slowing.
And despite all the new tech and creature comforts, trucks still have an air of authenticity about them that few SUVs can match. Get on this trend before your buds do.
A BED-TIME STORY
Looking back on 101 year of Dodge pickup trucks. A lot has changed.