How trucks became the new symbol of American luxury

Morgan Korn, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Isaac Marchionna was always a loyal SUV owner until he transformed his Toyota 4Runner into a Ford F-150 Raptor, a massive 450 horsepower, 510 lb-ft of torque truck, there. three years old.

Marchionna, who lives in Oregon, originally bought the $72,000 pickup to go off-roading in the Baja California desert. He soon realized that the Raptor had all the comforts he was looking for in a daily driver.

“It’s aggressive and can bomb through a desert…but drives like a big car, handles very easily and is a very comfortable ride,” he told ABC News. “Just a pleasant driving experience around town.”

Trucks have definitely become the “it” vehicle in the United States, according to Ivan Drury, senior executive at Edmunds. They are now equipped with features that once distinguished luxury vehicles. Additionally, towing capabilities and bed size have increased in recent generations.

“Automakers are adding everything — heated and ventilated front and rear seats, 360-degree cameras, adaptive cruise control,” Drury told ABC News. “Trucks make your life easier and more practical than an SUV.”

Truck sales have exploded in recent years. They make up 20% of the US auto market, up from 13% in 2012, according to Edmunds data. Prices have also skyrocketed: the average transaction price for a truck in 2005 was $29,390. Today, consumers spend an average of $54,564, though trucks can easily top — or exceed — six figures.

“I used to think spending $50,000 or $60,000 on a truck was outrageous. Now there are pickups of $100,000,” Car and Driver editor Tony Quiroga told ABC News. “Automakers continue to produce more and more expensive models and there seems to be no limit to the appetite.”

When General Motors opened reservations for its $112,595 GMC Edition 1 Hummer EV pickup last October, all units sold out within 10 minutes, the company said. The muscular EV, a modern take on the old gas-guzzler, still grabs the attention of motorists with its bold and athletic exterior design. The Hummer’s three electric motors and battery produce 1,000 hp and 1,200 lb-ft of torque. The truck’s engineers and designers, however, paid as much attention to interior and ride quality as they did to insane performance.

Inside are crisp graphics on two large screens and multiple storage compartments to hold items. GM said 70% of drivers who made a reservation are new to electric vehicles.

“The way we executed this truck…anyone could drive it,” Hummer EV lead exterior designer Brian Malczewski told ABC News. “All my friends and family loved it, regardless of gender.”

Automakers have made trucks so appealing to nontraditional owners — roomy cabins, massage seats, 14-inch screens — that more families and women are choosing them over SUVs as their primary vehicle, Andre said. Smirnov, editor of Trucks are no longer two-door, flatbed utility vehicles, he pointed out.

“They’re more off-road capable, more maneuverable…and some have noise cancellation,” Smirnov told ABC News. “20 years ago, a truck creaked and made noise. Now it’s as quiet as a whisper inside.

He added: “A van allows a person or a family to do anything or go anywhere. Trucks can absolutely be a status symbol.

The trucks average 17 mpg, according to government data. Quiroga sees America’s fascination with them coming to an end if fuel prices continue to rise.

“With gasoline at $4 to $7 a gallon, I don’t know how long the demand will last,” he conceded. “When you add the cost of gas to the monthly payment, a truck is outrageously expensive.”

Smirnov said high fuel prices could push some budding truck owners toward electric vehicles like the Hummer, Rivian R1T, Ford F-150 Lightning or smaller pickup trucks with hybrid powertrains.

The Ram 1500 TRX – a beast of a truck with 35-inch tires, 702 hp, 650 lb-ft of torque and a supercharged 6.2L Hemi V8 engine – can launch 0-60 in 4.5 seconds or cruise comfortably at speeds legal as a family hauler. The $72,390 truck can easily fetch $100,000 with additional options and towing packages and earns a combined 12 mpg rating from the EPA.

“The demand for the TRX has never been higher – it’s incredible demand,” Ram 1500 senior manager Brant Combs told ABC News. “More people want a TRX than ever before.”

The TRX’s “wild” performance numbers may be a draw for some riders, Combs acknowledged. It’s the truck’s everyday capabilities, however, that really sell the TRX, he said: the prodigious storage space, multiple USB adapters, reclining rear seats and premium leather, to name a few. name a few.

“It has the comfort and safety features…a great truck for everyday commuter use,” Combs said.

Toyota and Chevrolet recently launched two new trucks to get a bigger share of the hot market. The revamped Tundra, available in seven trim levels, has a starting price of $35,950. Customers can opt for the fully-equipped Capstone model ($74,230) which includes 22-inch machine-finished alloy wheels, walnut wood trim, acoustic glass on the front door and power-adjustable front seats in 10 directions leather trimmed.

“We are delighted with the customer response to Tundra. We have sold every Tundra that has been built to date,” a Toyota spokesperson told ABC News.

Chevrolet’s formidable Silverado Crew 1500 ZR2, with its naturally aspirated 6.2L V8 engine (420 hp, 460 lb-ft of torque), starts at $71,000 and offers many of the perks drivers ask for: four-wheel drive, head-up display, a rear camera mirror, adaptive cruise control and a 13.4-inch infotainment system compatible with Amazon Alexa.

Ford, which kick-started the performance truck craze a decade ago with the F-150 Raptor, has confirmed that a Raptor R version with even more horsepower and torque will soon go into production.

Demand for trucks has even increased in suburbs and cities like San Francisco, pockets of the country that have long favored electric vehicles and SUVs over beefy work vehicles, Drury said. On his way to Edmunds office in Santa Monica, Calif., Drury recalled a residence that had a Rolls-Royce parked next to an F-150 Raptor.

“The number of lifestyle truck owners is up across the board,” Drury said. “A lot of it is bragging rights. This is a growing market, not a shrinking market.

Drury himself joined the truck bandwagon in 2020, selling his SUV for one. He recently convinced his brother to trade in his Toyota Camry for a Raptor.

“The stigma is gone. The trucks drive so much better than before,” he said. “Once you’ve bought a van, it’s very hard to go back. I’m 100% a trucker now.

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