I've been fortunate to have traveled the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia. Exotic islands, too. Wherever I go, I'm struck by one undeniable truth — Americans love their full-size pickup trucks like no other country on planet Earth.
(I've also come to believe that, as a rule, the world's people are incredibly warm and generous, but I'll let Rick Steves cover that topic.)
We like our trucks big, and we like them powerful. Globally, compact vehicles such as the Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Golf are the top sellers. But in the U.S., it has been the Ford F-150 — by a wide margin — for 28 years straight. That's followed by the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins, another pair of full-size trucks.
You might see an occasional pickup in Japan or Slovenia, but they're smaller and far less imposing than the Ram 1500 or Toyota Tundra (No. 3 and 4 in pickup sales, respectively). Full-size trucks don't get a second glance in downtown Seattle. In Tokyo, they would be Godzilla come to life.
Perhaps we love pickups because they fit our can-do attitude, even if some owners carry only air in the bed. It's empowering to haul a full load of beauty bark to improve another unique piece of Americana — the large lawn.
These chores could be done with smaller trucks — such as the Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Chevy Colorado or GMC Sonoma — but there's always the chance that motorcycles, campers or small yachts will need towing. As a nation of grown-up Boy Scouts, "be prepared" is seared into our collective psyche.
Pickup trucks are huge moneymakers for manufacturers, so competition for buyers is fierce. Truck makers are adding bells and whistles in an attempt to sway buyers or retain loyalty.
For example, the clever utility of Ram's RamBox side-bed storage system — which can even be used as a cooler — might test the loyalty of even the most devout Ford or Chevy drivers. The 2014 Silverado gets an ingenious step notched into the rear-bumper corners, as well as a torsion spring in the tailgate for an effortless and silky operation.
Manufacturers are also loading on the glitz in luxury versions, such as the Ford King Ranch, GMC Sierra Denali and Ram Laramie Longhorn, which made Ward's 10 Best Interiors list this year. Chevy fans will soon get their own luxury truck to covet: the Silverado High Country, due out this fall.
Since mpgs are becoming as important to buyers as towing capability, many full-size rigs now equal, or even surpass, the small pickup in fuel efficiency. Ford has scored big with its turbocharged 365-horsepower V-6 EcoBoost engine, which provides V-8-like power and deep torque. Chrysler has bolted an eight-speed transmission into the Ram for best-in-class fuel economy at 25 mpg highway.
Visit a Chevrolet or GMC dealer this summer and you'll find new generations of Silverado and Sierra that offer up a whole new level of driving refinement to go with classic GM design. Toyota is upgrading its Tundra with more machismo pressed into the sheet metal and a welcome cabin upgrade; look for it this fall.
Ford has kept the F-150 admirably fresh over the years and is launching an all-new version in 2014. Expect it to follow the cues found in the Atlas concept truck. GM is prepping a replacement for the midsize Colorado/Sonoma in the U.S. market.
Will the rest of the world come to embrace these workhorses they way we do? Probably not. Our lifestyles and demands are unique. And, really, can you imagine navigating Paris in a Nissan Titan? I didn't think so.