Trucks’ Time To Shine - Sway Control
Earlier in my automotive journalism career, it was determined by company management that I would be the managing editor for a truck title in the group, and despite my best efforts to escape that typecasting, somehow my titles and responsibilities have always gravitated back toward trucks. When I first got into this industry in the late ’90s and early ’00s, the truck market, defined both broadly and specifically, was not nearly what it is today. Trucks were still considered predominantly work vehicles. ½-ton and midsize crew cabs were just starting to appear on the market. Model runs were between 7 and 10 years, and no manufacturer felt any particular sense of urgency to make more frequent or substantial updates.
Of course, this made for great times for the aftermarket, which was all too happy to offer bolt-on performance and cosmetic enhancements to personalize trucks and SUVs. Then gas prices started to suddenly spike starting around 2004 and continuing through 2008. Trucks and SUVs, once buyers’ vehicles of choice, fell out of favor for midsize sedans and the new sub-genre of SUVs: the now-ubiquitous “crossover.”
"The amount of technical innovation happening in the segment is also staggering."
What on the surface would seem like all bad news for trucks and SUVs has actually turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to the formerly complacent market. Truck buyers never really fell out of love with the idea of trucks, but temporarily traded out to something that would be more practical and economical on a daily basis. Manufacturers responded with significantly more efficient powertrains, narrowing the economy gap considerably relative to cars. Buyers also became more demanding of comfort and convenience features, with many of today’s top-trim trucks easily the peer of luxury sedans.
The amount of technical innovation happening in the segment is also staggering, with the auto industry’s largest deployment of aluminum in history with the ’15 Ford F-150, the first ½-ton diesel in the segment in more than 20 years and six- and eight-speed transmissions becoming the norm.
And the former trade-off between utility and economy has been effectively eliminated, with trucks capable of towing more than 7,000 pounds also capable of delivering a combined 20-plus mpg in daily driving. That equation is about to improve further with the coming of the ’16 Canyon and Colorado diesel, which have the potential to break the 30 mpg highway barrier, as well as crest the 7,000-pound towing mark.
Icing on the cake for the truck market are some of the lowest fuel prices we’ve seen in quite a while, and the expectation is that they will continue to fall, with domestic oil production climbing to an all-time high. We shouldn’t take cheap gas for granted but neither do the manufacturers, engineering the new generation of trucks to deliver economy that will still make them a viable transportation option if prices ever go up to $4 a gallon again.
So rather than lamenting having to write about “boring old trucks,” I’m covering one of the most vibrant, competitive, and innovative segments of the automotive industry. And all indications are that manufacturers are going to continue to double-down on innovation and competitiveness for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see what they have in store.