We love our trucks—muddy or clean, hardworking or pristine, low or lifted. They are all-American symbols of work and play. They haul our stuff, tow our toys, eat up tough terrain and ride to the rescue. They can be almost anything for anyone:
a work machine or a flashy hot rod (without signaling a mid-life crisis).
A truck is a beautiful thing—simple and useful. Trucks are like our dads and granddads, who likely provided for their families by working jobs that required brawn, craftsmanship and guts. They are tough, sturdy and reliable, like we want to be. Trucks bestow an image of strength, competence and confidence, and remind us of work well-done or a wild ride down a country lane.
And let’s not be coy about it: trucks are attractive to the opposite sex. In a 2013 poll by Insure.com, an independent consumer website, 2,000 drivers age 18 and older were asked to describe the kinds of vehicles they found most attractive for potential mates to drive. Among women, 32 percent said that they found men who drove pickup trucks to be the most attractive. When it came to color, 53 percent of women chose black as the sexiest shade (if it’s clean). Which leads to speculation about the practical thinking of the women who voted: “Here’s a guy who can help me move, bring me large gifts from Pottery Barn and fix things around the house.” Bonus points for cleaning up that black truck. If he washes his vehicle, he might wash hers too.
Of course women like to drive trucks as well. Although they’re still a small percentage of pickup buyers, about 11 percent, that’s more than double the number of women buying trucks in the mid-1980s. Women interviewed for an article in Truck Trend Magazine explained using their trucks for doing things about which they’re passionate, be it horticulture, home improvement or hauling horses. When the ladies are behind the wheel, they describe feeling safe, powerful and tall, and they notice a bit more attention from men (who might be admiring the horses). When men describe liking women who drive trucks, they say the ladies are more likely to
be sweet country girls who don’t mind dirt and dogs.
Like a Country Song
We’re also sentimental about our trucks. Between 2005 and 2014, according to the Billboard Hot Country chart, nearly 22 percent of all county music songs were either about trucks or mentioned trucks in the lyrics. Truck songs were on an upward trend beginning in 2012, almost half mentioned trucks as a natural element of a rural, blue collar culture.
Truck Yeah, by Tim McGraw, is an ode to a country-style good time, “redneck rockin’ like a rockstar,” and a lot of jacked-up trucks. In the video, he finds himself performing in a parking lot circled by trucks—a pretty female driving every one. “With a little bit of luck I can find me a girl with a truck, yeah.” Well yes, Tim. Yes you can.
We Rode in Trucks, by Luke Bryan, is a look back at growing up and making memories—of farm fields, hunting, fishing and football. And through it all, “Falling in and out of love, we rode in trucks.” Lee Brice sings I Drive Your Truck, a heartbreaking song featuring a man driving the truck that once belonged to his brother, who lost his life serving our country. And of course Florida Georgia Line, in the song Cruise, a summer anthem if there ever was one, sings
“she hopped right up into the cab of my truck and said, ‘Fire it up, let’s go get this thing stuck.’”
Whether as tools or toys, truck sales grew five times faster than sales of cars last year, increasing ten percent compared to 1.8 percent for cars. Americans bought about 39,000 more trucks than cars in 2013. But in 2014, light trucks dramatically pulled away, outselling cars by 685,000 vehicles. Pickup trucks account for about 21 percent of all vehicles sold. The most popular model by a huge stretch was the Ford F-Series pickup. In 2014, Americans bought 754,000 of them, making it the top-selling vehicle for the thirty-third year in a row. Chevy’s Silverado came in a distant second, followed by Fiat Chrysler’s Ram truck. The top three trucks combined for 1.7 million sales, or one in every ten new vehicles sold in 2014.
After slumping during the economic downturn, large Sport Utility Vehicles—a category that includes American behemoths like the Chevy Suburban, Ford Expedition, and GMC Yukon—are again in demand. Sales were up 14.4 percent in 2014.
A Brief History
German engineer Gottlieb Daimler invented “vehicle no. 42” in 1896. Many truck enthusiasts cite this horseless wagon as the first truck. Daimler’s invention had a four-horsepower, 1.1 liter, two-cylinder engine that supposedly hauled 3,300 pounds. Daimler invented a ten-horsepower truck that boasted a top speed of 7.5 miles per hour. These lackluster results rarely convinced businessmen, farmers and ranchers to abandon their draft horses and wagons for a pickup truck.
The history of the pickup truck in America is complicated and experts will disagree. In the 1910s, the nation’s automobile business was booming. Yet not until a purchase order from the U.S. Army in 1918 did the Dodge brothers develop a half-ton multipurpose truck, jumpstarting the category of light-duty trucks. In layman’s terms, the half-ton truck description comes from a truck’s ability to carry up to a half-ton (1,000 pounds) of cargo in the cab and bed combined. Dodge’s original truck had a max payload of 1,000 pounds and was powered by a 35-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with a three-speed transmission. During this time, the first Chevrolet truck, the Model 490 (named for its sticker price) went on sale with a 21.7-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. Chevy buyers were expected to build their own cab, truck bed and body onto the chassis or pay an extra $100-plus for an aftermarket cab that bolted onto the frame.
The Ford Motor Company saw the potential of the pickup and in 1925 introduced the Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body. In 1928 it was replaced by the Model A, which had a closed cab, safety glass windshield, roll-up side windows and three-speed transmission. In 1931 Chevy produced its first factory-assembled pickup. When Ford introduced its 65-horsepower V8 engine in 1932, the company had already sold three million pickups. Toward the end of the ‘30s, the modern pickup began to evolve with a full cab, a choice of high bed walls, and V6 or V8 engines. A 1937 Chevy 3/4-ton came with 85 horsepower. Dodge had moved to a 75-horsepower, six-cylinder engine. During the Second World War, the U.S. government halted the production of privately-owned pickup trucks as raw materials and manpower were diverted to the war effort.
In 1947, Chevy launched the size race with its new light-duty pickup and the first three-person seat. It had a roomier cab, better visibility through bigger windows, and a higher seat. Dodge’s B-Series truck followed the same trend. Engines averaged 90-100 horsepower. In 1948, Ford launched the original F-Series with an inline six or V8. The first civilian
Jeep was introduced in 1945 to replace farm workhorses;
its belt-drive attachment served as a mobile power supply for farm implements.
The oil crisis of the ‘70s sparked interest in smaller, more fuel-efficient compact pickups, like the Chevy LUV and Ford Ranger, as well as Japanese imports. In 1977, the Fort F-150 became (and remains) the best-selling truck in America. In fact, it’s the top-selling vehicle, period, since 1982. The new millennium brought Japanese full-size pickups to America, like the Toyota Tundra and the Nissan Titan. Last year, U.S. drivers bought almost 2 million pickups.
Tools and Toys
So the truck began its life as an essential tool for work, and proponents of the truck as a work vehicle maintain strong opinions on the subject. A blogger, mrmoneymustache.com, addresses his comments to his “brothers of the construction trades, the oil industry, the armed forces, and even plain old civilian office jobs.” He opines that trucks exist for two reasons: to make you money; and to make you look good in front of other people. The problem arises, he says, when you buy yourself something that doesn’t really meet these goals, “All hat and no cattle.” The right tool for the job is the key. “You look smart only at those moments you are maxing that thing out. Payload and towing load at 100 percent of rated capacity.” That’s when your truck is earning the money you paid for it. And making money, he says, is what makes you look good. Of course even when the truck isn’t strictly used as a work vehicle, there’s still labor to be done around the suburban homestead—the far acre to traverse, lumber to cut and haul, and mulch to be loaded and spread.
But there’s more to life than work, and truck lovers also like to play. Less than 15 percent of owners report work as their pickup truck’s primary purpose. Today, as trucks more become passenger-oriented and sport comfort items like heated and cooled leather seats, Bluetooth and DVD players, all-wheel drive or four-wheel-drive, front and rear cameras, and sunroofs, more truck lovers choose their vehicles for lifestyle reasons like family transportation, or even as luxury vehicles. There are weekend adventures to consider—hauling boats or motorcycles, roughing it to a remote campsite, finding a secluded hunting spot, or pounding snowdrifts into submission to get to the ski resort. Of households with two or more vehicles in which one is a sport-utility vehicle, nearly 25 percent own a pickup truck.
Then there’s the ultimate truck toy, the monster truck. Tricked out with flashy paint and strobing lights, it’s supercharged, oversized, drives over nearly every obstacle in its path and splits nearly every eardrum in its vicinity. The monster truck is the star of its own barrier-crushing competitions, and is often featured alongside motocross races, mud bogs and tractor-pulling events.
The American Dream
A truck is a symbol of rugged individuality, of working hard and playing hard—the American dream. A person can live vicariously through a truck—performing an honest day’s physical labor, imagining a drive through the woods fording streams and climbing rocks, pulling strangers’ vehicles out of ditches, being the neighbor everyone wants to have around. (Because if you’re stuck in a rut, which would you rather see in your rearview, a Prius or a truck?.) According to Mr. Regular, writing for CarThrottle.com, “Americans need pickups for feeling, but the feeling isn’t shallow.” Commanding that powerful truck “gives you self-worth that only a father’s approval can match,” he wrote. “On that natural high, you are ready to devour a forest.