Americans love their pickup trucks and Kansas City is no exception. Ford Motor Company’s F-Series has been the best-selling vehicle lineup in the country for four decades, and the Toyota Camry is the only sedan in Car and Driver magazine’s five most popular models of 2022.
Stuart Williams, a sales and leasing professional at Dave Cross Motors at Lee’s Summit, sees this popularity firsthand every day. The trucks “are sold before they even get to the dealership,” he said Thursday. “They’re so popular.” Car buying website iSeeCars ranks light pickup truck sales in Kansas and Missouri near the group’s center nationwide – No. 17 and 23 – but trucks and SUVs dominate the streets of Kansas City.
The Ford F-150, built alongside the Transit van at the Kansas City assembly plant, is the truck of choice for US motorists, with more than 650,000 units sold last year. Add in Chevy Silverados, Ram Trucks pickups, Toyota RAV4s and GMC Sierras, and more than 2 million new big trucks hit our roads last year alone.
A big part of the appeal of those vehicles is their size. “Mostly, domestic manufacturers are moving to SUVs and trucks,” Williams said. “They’re not building a family sedan like they used to. … You notice that half the people don’t even use them as a truck anymore. They are driving them more for everyday things.
And the difference between those big, heavy trucks and the four-doors they’re replacing is getting starker every day. “Pickup: From Workhorse to Joyride,” a new project from online news site Axios, offers a deep dive into how passenger truck cabs are getting wider, deeper, and taller. At the same time, their cargo beds have shrunk dramatically over the years. In the 1970s, the F-150’s bed made up about half the length of the vehicle, Aixios showed. In the 2020s, about a third is now dedicated to payload.
Manufacturers have also made huge improvements in passenger comfort. The interior of your average throwback pickup was a fairly bare-bones affair. Today, drivers enjoy heated bucket seats, 13.4-inch touchscreen controls, floor-mounted shifters and an elevated vantage point over traffic. “The design is very sophisticated and they are easy to drive,” Williams said.
More comfortable trucks mean a major change in what people do with them too. Axios looked at annual surveys of F-150 owners from 2012 to 2021 and determined that 87% of them frequently use their trucks for shopping and errands, 70% for pleasure driving, and 52% for leisure. commuting. Only 28% frequently carry out personal transport and 63% reported that they “seldom or never” use pickup trucks for towing.
Drivers of sedans and hatchbacks are acutely aware of one of the biggest contrasts between their vehicles and today’s new class of big truck: height. Many pickup truck and SUV drivers like a higher seat that gives them a better view of the road. But this can put motorists at a disadvantage. “When two vehicles of different sizes collide, the occupants of the smaller vehicle are more likely to be injured than the occupants of the larger vehicle,” reads a summary of a 2019 report from Traffic Injury Prevention magazine. Pickups significantly increase the likelihood of fatal accidents.
Motorists are acutely aware that truck headlights often emit angled beams which can be blinding at night, particularly annoying and downright dangerous with the new generations of ultra bright LEDs and other high intensity lamps. Fortunately, last year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally pioneered “adaptive high-beam headlights” that keep the glare out of motorists’ eyes. The technology has already been in use for years in other countries. It should become mandatory in the US as a basic security measure.
The Axios report also notes that higher truck cabs mean less visibility of nearby obstacles: “Today’s truck drivers sit much higher, creating a blind spot where small children or wheelchair users are hidden from view,” he stressed.
There’s no indication that big trucks are going out of fashion anytime soon, and more efficient electric models, like the attractive F-150 Lightning, will appeal to a class of potential buyers put off by gas-drinkers. As long as individuals can make their own choices about personal transportation, motorists will need to get along as best they can on the roads. If your decision is to sit high and drive a big truck or SUV down the highway, the sports car or station wagon next to you has only one request: keep an eye on the smaller guy.