For this article I wanted to take a look at the pickup truck market to prepare for the upcoming announcement of Tesla’s pickup. As long as I was looking at the pickup market, I thought I might as well share my research with my readers.
I’ve never owned a pickup, but I borrowed one a few times from friends and rented one a few times on trips. The reason I never bought a pickup was twofold. First, I’m a geek and geeks don’t really buy pickups unless they really need them. Second, the first time I drove a pickup, I was driving it in Iowa on snow and it had horrible traction (it got stuck in 1 inch of snow because it had poor tires and there was ice beneath the snow). It was also very sensitive to crosswinds. It had a high center of gravity, and I’m sure it had a high risk of rollover. Since I moved to Florida about 30 years ago, until recently, I always had a minivan that I used to haul things many people might haul in a pickup. Now I use a trailer and my son’s or brother-in-law’s car with a hitch.
The pickup truck market is broadly split into the work trucks and lifestyle trucks, with a healthy amount of overlap. I define a work truck as a truck that has some scratches and dents. A lifestyle truck may get used for towing and some light hauling, but the bed isn’t used enough to get really scratched up. Most work trucks don’t get waxed, but lifestyle trucks do. I’ve spoken to a number of people over the last year who have owned pickup trucks. Those use them for work say that they value the bigger trucks for 3 reasons:
- They can haul bigger loads in the truck bed.
- They can tow bigger trailers to haul boats, horses, camping trailers, cars, or other loads.
- When you use a larger truck to tow a heavy load, it is safer and less likely to over-tax the engine and transmission, leading to costly repairs.
4 Door Crew Cabs
4 door crew cabs have become popular in the last few years for 2 reasons:
- Families can easily access the large rear seats. (The extended cabs of the past only had little jump seats and you had to fold the front seats to access them.)
- Businesses with many workers can easily haul 5 or even 6 adults to the work site.
Truck buyers have started to buy mostly the 4 door crew cabs with luxurious interiors.
As more families have been using the truck as their daily driver, they have started to emphasize safety. Although, it is mostly a false marketing ploy. They show them as large macho machines and people imagine they would be the winner in any crash. People don’t realize that you don’t improve your chances of living by doing more damage to others. Since pickups have approximately twice the rollover risk (which has a high — 35% — risk of death) and haven’t (until recently) put much effort into designing crumple zones to absorb the impact of a crash, they haven’t been as safe as people imagine. The new 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 is the only Top Safety Pick + from the IIHS in the large pickup category, while there are 11 small cars that get the same top rating. Before 2019, only one other pickup (2017 Honda Ridgeline) received this top rating in the 7 years the rating has existed, as opposed to about a hundred cars earning it.
According to goodcarbadcar.net, the top 3 pickups have over 65% of the sales in this category. The Ford F-150 has about 27% market share, the Dodge Ram about 20%, and the Chevy Silverado about 19%. 10 other pickups fight for the other 35% of the market. When we look at capacities later, keep that in mind. I’m assuming the leaders are the target of the Tesla CyberTruck.
Using this Consumer Reports article as a source, it appears all the compact pickups tow between 5,000 and 7,700 pounds and the full size pickups can be configured to tow about 10,000 to 13,000 pounds. Looking at this source to find the “super duty” trucks, notice that some of them can tow up to 35,100 pounds! I expect the CyberTruck to have a lower-end configuration to compete with the compact trucks and a higher-end configuration that exceeds the capabilities of any full size pickup. I don’t know if they will attempt to compete with the super duty trucks that tend to have 4 wheels in the back (called a dually).
Bed Size & Max Load
Using Consumer Reports again as the source, it appears the compact trucks can carry a max load of about 1500 pounds, the full size trucks a max of about 2000 pounds, the super duty trucks up to almost 6000 pounds. Read this to see how this equates to the commonly used half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton terms.
We don’t know if Tesla will attempt to compete in the larger classes or just the smaller classes that sell the highest volumes. It appears that manufactures offer beds from about 5 feet long to 8 feet long in their trucks. If you have a crew cab truck and a long bed, you are going to have a lot of trouble parking the truck in regular spaces and garages. The shorter beds make the trucks more maneuverable for those customers who prioritize passenger space and towing capacity over bed size.
Options & Pricing
Pickups are available for a wide range of prices. The cheapest pickup is the Nissan Frontier extended cab at just over $20,000. The most popular truck, the Ford F-150, starts at about $30,000 and goes up to about $75,000 for a loaded luxury Limited SuperCrew. The Dodge truck that can tow 35,000 pounds can get to almost $90,000. These more expensive trucks offer a host of features that make it easier to attach a trailer and backup a trailer. Things like trailer assist packages, cameras that can be mounted on your trailer, 360 degree views that stitch together the outputs from multiple camera, and even systems that give backup trailer guidance.
As you can see from the picture above, trucks get about 15 to 20 miles per gallon and use about $2,000 to $2,500 in gas or diesel fuel a year (see assumptions in the picture above). Tesla’s highest cost vehicle today (the Model X) gets 96 eMPG and costs about $700 a year to run.
Off Road Capability
Pickups have options packages that make the trucks more capable in off-road situations. For example, the Tremor Off-Road Package offered by Ford adds 35 inch maximum-traction tires, a 2 inch lift, and a shortened air dam. This gives the truck over 10 inches of ground clearance and an ability to ford (no pun intended) up to 33 inches of water. It also upgrades the springs, shocks, and locking front and rear differentials. Off-road running boards and skid plates provide some protection when climbing over rocks. It offers several different drive modes for around-town use, tow/haul, icy conditions, snow/sand, and rock-crawl modes.
Acceleration & Handling
My impression of pickups (I haven’t driven a really nice one) is that they are slow, laggy, and handle like crap. But since I drive a Tesla Model 3 every day, that sets a pretty high bar for comparison. Looking at the 0-60 times listed for various pickups, it looks like slower ones take about 7 or 8 seconds and faster ones about 5 seconds. Elon Musk has stated that Tesla doesn’t make slow vehicles. He has stated that the CyberTruck will outperform a base Porsche 911. I would expect a base CyberTruck to be no slower than 5 or 6 seconds and a performance model to be close to 3 seconds in 0–60 times, and to easily handle better than its competition.
I hope this helped give you an overview of the state of the pickup market today. You can refer back to this article when Tesla announces the specs of its CyberTruck to see how it compares to the existing market leaders today. That should help you decide if they made a competitive product or are missing key features in an important area.
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