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What Is A Truck? A Modest Refutation…

My Personal Take on What Constitutes a Pickup in 2020.

Jul 2, 2020
A few weeks back, we published an article on TruckTrend.com and FourWheeler.com that outlined a certain criterion for categorizing what is—and isn't—considered a pickup truck. The history of this breakdown dates back many years and has been the subject of many spirited debates around the Truck Trend office. If you haven't had a chance to read the original piece, click the link below and come on back before proceeding further.
What Is A Pickup Truck?
All caught up? OK, let's continue then. What I'd like to offer here is my rebuttal to the five-part methodology laid out by my colleague. In my professional opinion, the five categories are too restrictive. In actuality, this five-part checklist formed many years ago as a three-part list (open cargo area, body-on-frame, and bed separate from cab) from which a vehicle needed to meet two of the three criteria. At the time, most of us on staff agreed to this approach.
Photo 2/13   |   006 What Is A Truck The Rebuttal
 
Over the course of many debates between myself (Truck Trend Editor-in-Chief), Brett Evans (former Truck Trend Staff Editor), and Sean Holman (Truck Trend Content Director), the list morphed into the one you have just seen. Why did it morph? Simply to exclude certain vehicles from the list of what is and isn't a pickup. Full disclosure: While both Sean and I agree that the Honda Ridgeline is a great vehicle, I believe it qualifies as a pickup and he does not. Thus, the basis for this disagreement. I believe the five-step methodology is flawed, as it would suggest that the Subaru Baja and Chevrolet El Camino are pickups, while the Honda Ridgeline is not. In what world does that make sense?
So, what would I suggest? I would submit the more drastic, yet simple, approach of declaring any vehicle with an open cargo area a pickup, as it's outlined in most official (government and private sector) regulations. Sure, this would include vehicles such as Chevrolet's El Camino, Ford's Ranchero, the Subaru Brat and Baja, and Hummer H2 SUT. However, I would also argue that their respective manufacturers intended them to be considered pickups.
What do I specifically disagree with on the five-part list, you ask? Well, I agree fully on the first criteria; there needs to be an open cargo area. A closed cargo area makes a vehicle an SUV, no matter the outer form. For example, if the bed cover shown on the Tesla Cyber Truck isn't removeable when the truck reaches production, then it's an SUV (yes, I know there have been several versions of this bed covering floating around in both reality and renderings).
Photo 3/13   |   002 What Is A Truck The Rebuttal
The second criteria, the bed needing to be separate from the cab, is an interesting one. This addresses the bulk of the concern over whether something is a truck or not. Looking at Honda's Ridgeline, the Hummer H3 SUT, Chevrolet Avalanche, and even the El Camino and Ranchero; by this criteria alone, all would be considered not pickups. Which, fine, the Hummer can be an SUV and the El Camino and Rancher cars, but where does that leave Avalanche and Ridgeline, which are very clearly pickups?
Third on the list is a longitudinally oriented drivetrain, and this is where things get weird. I feel that this requirement was added to specifically exclude Ridgeline. With the advancements in technology that we've had in the past 100 years of truck building, why should orientation of the drivetrain matter? As long as the vehicle suspension is set up properly and weight distributed where it needs to be, engine layout shouldn't matter. The theory that a longitudinally oriented drivetrain provides more weight over the rear for better handling is nullified by the fact that a pickup would never be allowed to leave the proving grounds if the handling was so poor that the rear spins out whenever a curve is near—it's dramatic, but you get my point.
Photo 4/13   |   003 What Is A Truck The Rebuttal
Photo 5/13   |   004 What Is A Truck The Rebuttal
Moving on to No. 4 on the list, the availability of all-wheel or four-wheel drive. Personally, I don't disagree. Trucks are all-purpose machines that should be able to go anywhere and do anything. However, professionally I must disagree as there is surely a case to be made that a singularly front or rear-wheel drive pickup could find its place. There are plenty of consumers that need the ability to haul large items but don't live in a place with adverse weather conditions or have a hobby that takes them off the beaten path. This is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of two-wheel drive pickups sold every year.
Lastly, the question of whether the vehicle is body-on-frame or not. Again, should this be considered a necessity in 2020? Technological advancements have gotten to the point where unibody construction can be as or more rigid than a traditional ladder frame. Each certainly has a purpose, as we wouldn't expect to see a unibody HD truck anytime soon. However, for the midsize and smaller classes I can't see any reason to exclude a unibody.
Photo 6/13   |   005 What Is A Truck The Rebuttal
So, where does that leave us then? If we can't agree than anything with an open cargo area is a pickup, then I'll propose a return to the three-step system for identification of a pickup. However, we'll need to agree on a new set of criteria. An open cargo area is a given, and we should add that it needs to not be based on the same platform as a passenger car; however, with many manufacturers going to more modular platforms, this may not hold for long either. It shouldn't need to be four-wheel drive, nor have a longitudinally mounted drivetrain. And the need to be body-on-frame only seems a bit archaic.
I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks on this subject and will gladly publish your thoughts and opinions. Email me at Jason_Gonderman@motortrend.com, and let me know if you think I'm on the right track or totally off base and you agree with Sean's five-step system for identifying a pickup.
I can't wait to sit around a campfire and debate this subject even further with Holman; we'll see if he still talks to me after reading this.

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