The Future of Trucks Is With Us Now
The Driver’s Seat
It’s always fun to sit back and ruminate on what the future might hold. Daydreams about winning the lottery, traveling to some far off land, or becoming a superhero are what get most people through their days. It’s the reason we plan vacations far in advance, giving us something exciting to look forward too in the otherwise sameness that is most peoples day-to-day lives. But that’s life; we’re here to talk about trucks.
One of questions I’m most often asked, after “How’s Allyson? I miss her” and “Why wasn’t the F-150 in your Pickup Truck of the Year test,” is “What can you tell me about the new…?” You fill in the blank. It’s as if I’m seen as having some mystical powers or a divining rod of sorts that can predict exactly what a specific manufacturer is going to do with a future product. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad thing—quite the contrary. I like to bench race just as much as any other guy. I’ll sit and talk shop with you until the proverbial cows come home, but just because I run this here little publication doesn’t mean that I have all of the answers or that I’ll betray the trust of those who have confided in me.
That said, I can let you all in on a few of the secrets that I’ve learned over the years for predicting the future. Start with the concepts and pay attention to the auto shows. Each year, at least one of the big players will trot out a concept vehicle. This is usually a good indicator that a new product is coming four or five years in the future. The more outlandish the concept, the further out the production version is. On page TKTK, we take a look at 17 past concept vehicles; about half went on to become pickups that we all know and love. Think of the concepts as a caricature of what the final product will be. Smooth out the lines, constrain the sometimes-wacky proportions, ditch the sparkle, and history has shown us that we’d be getting close.
Once a vehicle has made its jump from concept to reality, it will spend many years in design and engineering. This is where we get our next glimpse into the future. Pay attention to websites and magazines just like ours, as often times manufacturers test these vehicles either on public roads or at least in view of the public. Spy photographers are the bane of the testing engineer’s existence, but they are a gold mine of information for those wanting an early look. We play a middleman, of sorts, passing along these photos and deciphering what bits of information we can glean from the often-camouflaged exteriors. These mules are most often six months to two years out from the dealer’s lots.
Aside from concepts and mules there’s a third, often times overlooked, way to get a good foretaste into the future. Look at the partnerships that exist within the automotive industry—there are more than you might think. A great example of this is found in Land Rover’s current line up with the 3.0L Td6 diesel engine. I recently had the opportunity to drive a ’16 Range Rover equipped with said engine, and it was phenomenal. However, combining what we know about the forthcoming ’18 Ford F-150 and the current and past partnership (and ownership) between Ford and Jaguar Land Rover, it’s easy to see that the engine powering the Range Rover is the same one that will provide motivation for Ford’s flagship 1/2-ton. Fiat and Chrysler prove to be another great example of this, with Ram’s Promaster and Promaster City coming from Fiat’s Ducato and Doblo. Jeep’s Cherokee and Renegade both also come from Fiat lineage, while Fiat’s newest model, the 124 Spider, is a reworked Mazda MX-5 Miata. Even Ford’s new 10-speed transmission is being designed in conjunction with General Motors, which means when we finally experience it in the F-150 later this year, we’ll also be seeing the potential future for Silverado and Sierra. The list goes on.
So you see, it’s easier to predict the future than you might think. And upcoming vehicles aren’t always as well hidden as certain folks would like to think that they are.