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posted on June 19th, 2017

HOW DETROIT’S BIG THREE DOMINATE THE TRUCK MARKET

Famously, America’s best-selling cars are not cars at all. They’re trucks. More specifically, they are the Ford F-Series, the Chevrolet Silverado, and the Dodge Ram pickup. Ford’s F-Series, best known for the ubiquitous F-150, has been the best-selling vehicle of any kind for the last 35 years in a row. There have been over 26 million of them sold in the US since 1977.

Another way to describe the immense popularity of Ford’s perennial sales king? In the 21st century, Ford sells a truck every minute of every day. And then some. But why, in this day, do Americans still snatch up millions of vehicles that are essentially drivable wheelbarrows? Why, in an automotive market that increasingly values crossovers like the Toyota RAV4, do pickup trucks remain constant?

The answer is not that everyone needs a pickup truck. Most people are not farmers, or construction workers, or lumberjacks. Most people don’t need six tons of towing capacity or diesel V8s with 860 lb-ft of torque.

Carlos’s Ford F-150 (McKinney, TX)

There are, of course, a lot of people who have a lot of uses for driving a truck (millions, in fact). Put aside for a second the fact that the F-150 is comfortably the most popular commercial fleet vehicle. Pickup trucks are so common on American roads because you can do just about anything with that empty back half. Here is a list of things that pickups can do that is probably too long, but also not anywhere near long enough: moving furniture, hauling trailers, car camping, going skiing, carrying gardening materials, towing cars, football game tailgating, delivering packages, overland trail driving, hosting tarp swimming pools, doing horse stuff, getting other trucks unstuck, you get it.

But for every duck hunter with a Ford Super Duty there’s an office manager, for every ski bum a suburban teenager. A lot of these truck owners are simply drawn to the image that pickups represent.

Zoeb’s Dodge Ram 1500 (Fremont, CA)
Tanisha’s Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (Riverview, FL)

The eternal pickup truck was born from the agricultural roots of the American West, and still conjures visions of rugged frontiers and conestoga wagon caravans. Trucks offer a more contemporary image as the subject matter for country songs, along with watery beer, the companionship of a fine dog, and flannel shirts. They indicate a joyous pride of country and embrace the comfort of the glorious past. They have become an integral part of the American cultural identity and a powerful badge of masculinity.

David’s Ford F-150 (Wheat Ridge, CO)
Konstantin’s Ram 1500 (Beverly Hills, CA)
Jeff’s Chevrolet Avalanche (San Mateo, CA)

But trucks appeal to much, much more than John Wayne-style machismo and old-fashioned idealism. So many of us are drawn to the rough romance of the ‘get ‘er done’ attitude that the Big Three manufacturers have successfully embraced for decades. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda also sell pickups in the US market, but their models just don’t have the same… American-ness. If you’ve ever seen the TV commercials for a football game, you’re familiar with Detroit’s favorite message that those who work hardest and get their hands dirtiest drive the biggest, most capable trucks. “Built Ford Tough.” “Chevy: Like a Rock.” “Guts. Glory. Ram.”

Even if you aren’t a  contractor, it’s easy to welcome these ideas. Besides, size has always mattered in the American zeitgeist. Trucks are tall and roomy. You sit high and feel like you have command of the road. They look mean and muscly. They’re fun.

David’s Chevrolet Colorado (Wheat Ridge, CO)
Gregory’s Ford F-150 (Denver, CO)

At its heart, the pickup truck retains its blue-collar spirit, but an influx of luxury has morphed it into a status symbol. The lavish extended cabs of the top-line pickups have all the gadgets and all the Napa leather you could possibly want. It’s not “business in the front, party in the back.” It’s “comfort in the front, work in the back.” And this duality, literally built into the pickup, is perhaps the most American thing about it.

The humble pickup is the American dream. But contrary to belief, the American dream is not success or riches. It is a love of work so deep that work merges with play. You can drive your work truck while ensconced in a comfortable cabin on your way to haul some lumber, visit your grandma, or do whatever you damn well please. This is the modern pickup truck.

Steven is an avid car guy and content specialist at Turo. Between Golden State Warriors games he can be found getting lost somewhere in California.