Where the US leads, we often follow and pickups are a typical pursuit
The growth of the pickup truck market segment is no less strange than that for the ubiquitous SUV, highlights Iain Robertson, and despite various stipulations related to load bed capacities and business taxation levels, sales volumes continue to climb.
Dependent on your view, around three years ago, the American public voted into its Presidency a flaxen haired, tubby individual, who possesses some issues related to language, a chequered past and some potentially radical plans for the future. Apart from the impeachment proceedings, it does appear as though the UK, as usual, has followed suit, with Boris, albeit in a foreshortened timeframe.
You can take your pick of other ‘Americanisms’ that have reached our shores, raised a few eyebrows but have become as ‘normal’ as dressing-up for Halloween, calling chaps ‘guys’ and films ‘movies, or even referring to the Christmas festive period as a ‘holiday’. While the US predilection for big-fendered motorcars and gas-guzzling (sorry…petrol consuming) V8 engines has attracted a minor following over the years, often accompanied by Texan tasselled shirts, cowboy hats and cod-US accents, thankfully our narrower roadways are populated by dimensionally less challenging vehicles.
Custom vans have been a lifestyle staple of the US vehicle market, a factor behind the late-1980s fad for MPVs in the UK, which most North Americans referred to as ‘vans’, although they have been subsumed by our unceasing demand for SUVs over the past two decades at least. Yet, the California surfing scene has certainly been the inspiration for thousands of modified VW Transporters, Renault Trafics and Ford Transits on our roads.
The pickup truck scene has somewhat more rudimentary origins. Perceived from the outset as a working-class of transport, they proliferated across the Americas and the Antipodes due to the lack of off-highway, tarmac, or even concrete surfaced roads. Graded gravel roads are significantly less costly to maintain than pavement (sorry…tarmac surfaced routes). A regular family car could soon become an annoying ‘rattler’ after a series of passages along graded roadways that have become corrupted into rippled nightmares following rainstorms. Equipping the trucks with 4×4 transmissions resolved other issues between scheduled visits from the road regrading crews.
The vast majority of pickup trucks feature workmanlike separate chasses, onto which a cabin, with either two or various versions of four doors, is installed, with an up-to-one-tonne pickup deck (and tailgate) applied to its aft construction. There are a few unitary bodied exceptions but the vast majority are tough, uncompromising and intended for on-site working duties.
Much like the Mediterranean plumber’s, carpenter’s and painter’s three-wheeled Piaggio Apes that serve purpose as one-family modes of transport, when not in use as their primary workhorses, the use of pickups as leisure vehicles, aided by (originally) lower price tags has been popularised. Apart from a smattering of US-made pickups, the latest of which is the outlandish Tesla, the majority of our pickup truck market is based on Japanese imports.
The UK importers were quick to jump on the company car tax fissure that allowed the pickup to slip through the early-1990’s low tax net. Not wishing to allow a fiscal raid on their back pockets, some savvy corporate vehicle users opined that a well-equipped pickup could be every bit as entertaining as an SUV, without the excess penalties. Pickup sales went through a formerly non-existent roof. However, the government, slow to react as usual, closed-up the gap by insisting on a ‘one tonne’ load deck stipulation to qualify as a workhorse, thus qualifying for both lower road tax and company car tax (Benefit-In-Kind).
Not all pickup truck manufacturers could comply, as evinced by our recent road test of the Ford Ranger Raptor, which is hugely appealing to the off-road crowd, as well as the ‘Chelsea Tractor’ set. Its short load deck (680kgs), high unit pricing (£48,500) and CO2 turbo-diesel emissions pitched at 233g/km equates to five years’ worth of high road taxation and BIK payments, which makes the truck a relative ‘dodo’ in company vehicle terms, regardless of strong visual appeal.
It is intriguing to view the North American situation, where high-end pickups are very much the norm. Naturally, the US scene is predominated by the SUV (46.8%), with typical family saloons and estates responsible for less than half its total volume of registrations (22.1%). Although hatchbacks remain popular in the UK, mostly due to the company car sector’s demands, at just 4.8% penetration of the US new car scene, they are less than a third of the 16.8% pickup slice of that market (figures supplied by JATO Dynamics).
Regarded broadly as a lifestyle choice, equipment levels of pickups have developed to encompass leather-clad cabins, wood and alloy trim detailing, high-end in-car entertainment packages and innumerable sops to comfort and style options. This has hiked-up prices to unheard of levels in the US and, inevitably, it is a practice that is now being felt in the UK. As ever, we are a willing recipient!
Conclusion: If a pickup truck grinds your gears and makes you a willing customer, be happy with a great choice from Nissan, Ford, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Toyota and a handful of specialists, like Mercedes-Benz (which uses a Nissan Navara base for its high-priced offering). However, be aware of the tax implications and know that even the best truck is not an SUV!