Everyone obsesses about automotive styling. Just look at auto shows, where the aisles overflow with sexy concepts pointing to the direction car design is heading. But how much attention is paid to pickup-truck styling?

We can't help but wonder how, as each new truck is conceived and born, designers are working and scheming to one-up their competitors. We chatted with designers of all the full-size pickups (GM, Ford, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota) about today's North American market to learn what they're thinking, and where they're going next.

All talk about customer tastes and needs. All emphasize tough, strong, broad-shouldered looks, especially with front ends. However, what buyers need often comes down to capability. So how does one effectively differentiate itself to steal (in many cases) brand-loyal customers away from the rest?

Ford truck design director Pat Schiavone puts the design dilemma into perspective: "Truck customers are an interesting breed," he says. "They love their trucks, and they always dislike whatever it is you just did: 'What are you doing to my truck? You're ruining it!' But I believe in my heart that if it feels right to us, ultimately it's going to feel right to the customers.

"You design trucks differently from cars," Schiavone adds. "You start with their capability and functionality and use that as a springboard for their design."

Because GM's pickups are the newer trucks this year, and there are two of them, we talked to the exterior and interior designers who worked on both. Our other four interviewees spoke on both topics.

Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra EXterior

John Cafaro is GM's full-size truck exterior-design director. Prior to this assignment, he honed his talents on Corvettes, Camaros, Firebirds, and Fiero sports cars, among others.

TT: What were your vision and objectives going into this project?

JC: One goal was to create trucks that were as tough-looking as any out there. With the Sierra, we wanted to communicate a sense of power with a tall, vertical grille and a powerful center section through the hood. The Silverado focuses on width--headlamp to headlamp, corner to corner--a more lateral look. One big advantage was that we were allocated money to do specific sheetmetal for the Chevy and GMC. First time that's happened.

TT: What was your biggest challenge?

JC: Bringing the tight gaps that you see on the best cars in the world into a large body-on-frame vehicle. Getting everything tight, smooth, and consistent. We wanted the stance and toughness but also to raise the bar in quality and refinement. That enabled things like world-class aero numbers. We closed the gaps and tightened the surfaces, and in the wind tunnel, its numbers approached those of the C4 Corvette.

TT: Any major changes in direction?

JC: At one time we were trying some softer shapes, thinking that might be more modern. We took those to customer clinics, and they didn't want a soft truck. They wanted definition, some muscle in the shape, like a bodybuilder. There's a distinct style and proportion to an American pickup, and if you stray very far beyond that, you can get into trouble. These trucks push the boundaries--quicker windshield, flush glass, wrap-under doors, beautiful door handles, sculpted shapes in the fenders--yet have real American-truck cues: powerful front, aggressive, wide, stable stance. Then we put another layer of refinement in the lamps and grille. They have dual roles: rugged work partners and beautiful pieces of design.