Taken for granted for many years during the go-go years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when model upgrades were often a decade or more in between, the light truck market has now become one of the most fiercely competitive segments in the auto industry.
Full-size trucks, among the staple market segments in the U.S. auto industry, is experiencing a product renaissance not seen for decades, with light-duty diesels, eight-speed transmissions, air suspension, and high-tech turbocharged powerplants, simultaneously increasing efficiency as well as capability. And General Motors is less than a year away from seriously shaking up the midsize segment with the introduction of all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models by this summer.
We thought you'd like to meet some of the key figures behind this product revolution, so we've put together the 2014 Truck Trend Power List.
Chief Engineer, 2015 Ford F-150
Within the past few years, it seems every other month, we're pronouncing a new model a "game-changer," to the point where some may be wondering how many different games are going on. But when the conversation turns to the subject of the Ford F-150, any major changes to this sales stalwart of the past three decades truly warrants the term.
Pete Reyes had the weighty role of leading the engineering team that developed the all-new 2015 Ford F-150. Unless you live in a hole and still think the Motorola StarTac is state-of-the-art, you've probably heard by now the new truck has a revolutionary all-aluminum body.
But unlike most passenger cars that have a single body and chassis configuration, the new F-150 has more than 20 configurations, making the daunting task of developing all-new bodies and chassis even tougher.
Reyes is an alumnus of the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and a master's in business administration. He has spent a total of 15 years working on the F-Series, and served as chief engineer for the 2008 Super Duty.
Executive Chief Engineer, Global Full-Size and Midsize Trucks, General Motors
Jeff Luke is one busy guy over at GM. Fresh off the launch of the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500, now come the 2015 HD trucks and, right after that, the launch of the U.S.-market 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.
Luke has been executive chief engineer of global full-size and midsize trucks since August 2012. Prior to that assignment, he was executive director and group line executive for global trucks, vans and crossovers. As have many within GM, Luke got his start at the company through a co-op program through GMI Engineering and Management Institute, now Kettering University.
The relaunch of the Colorado/Canyon twins promises to elevate the visibility of the midsize truck segment, and break the Tacoma/Frontier duopoly of the segment.
President and CEO, Ram Truck Brand, Chrysler Group
While 2013 proved a banner year for the Ram brand, 2014 promises to be just as significant, with the rollouts of several key models, including the expanded availability of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the launch of the diesel engine in the ProMaster van, and the introduction of the ProMaster City compact cargo van, which will go toe to toe with the Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV200.
In addition to his role as CEO of the Ram brand, Bigland holds the same title for the entirety of Chrysler's Canadian operations, as well as head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group, LLC. How he finds time to sleep in view of all these pivotal roles is beyond our comprehension.
Bigland is undoubtedly proud of the Ram brand's accomplishments in 2013 and the significant new products in the pipeline for 2014.
Senior Vice President, Nissan Sales & Marketing, Parts & Service, USA
The move of Chrysler alum Fred Diaz to Nissan surprised many, but the reason was no surprise. Nissan is about to launch an all-new Titan, and this time, its effort is full-fledged. Compared with today's single powertrain and limited bed and cab configurations, the new Titan is promised to have a lineup of at least three powertrain options and multiple bed and cab configurations to more closely match the offerings from the domestic manufacturers.
Diaz was a big part of building the Ram brand before he departed Chrysler, and Nissan is likely hoping his knowledge and success building that brand will get the new Titan off to a strong start. We also have the feeling Diaz might have had his hand in the Frontier Diesel Runner concept shown in Chicago, a vehicle we hope is a sign of things to come.
CEO and President, Jeep
There's no denying Jeep is one of the most quintessentially all-American brands. But the reality is, for a brand to be successful, it has to be successful globally. Helping transform the Jeep brand into a global name is British native Mike Manley. In addition to his title as president and CEO of the Jeep brand, Manley is COO for the Asia Pacific region, part of FCA's Group Executive Council, and lead executive for international operations for Chrysler Group, LLC.
Manley shepherded the launch of the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee, oversaw the significant refresh of the Grand Cherokee, and is preparing to launch a new Italian-built subcompact Jeep model that will be sold globally, including the U.S. As with Ram, Jeep has enjoyed record sales in 2013, and with the addition of new models to the lineup, will likely see that brand's best overall sales to date in 2014.