When it comes to variety in vehicle choice, nothing beats a pickup. The number of trims and options available to the customer nowadays is staggering and may even seem overwhelming. But trucks are good like that: They evolve with customers’ needs. Aftermarket products often lead to manufacturer options and eventually become standard features. So we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite innovative pickup truck features that have arrived over the years. Of course, we have to go back a little ways to find out when some of these innovations first surfaced, but a lot of them have appeared within the last few years.
10. The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado introduced one of the greatest innovations in the history of trucks: the bumper step. Come on, you know it’s great. This may seem like common sense, but the pickup has been around for 90-plus years. How did it take so long for manufacturers to realize how useful a feature this is? Getting into the bed of your pickup truck has never been easier. We now live in the future.
9. The 2003 Toyota Tundra doesn’t look all that different from other trucks of its day, yet it was, and radically so. The ’03 Tundra was the first truck to offer a power-sliding rear window. Not only was the ’03 Tundra’s window power-sliding, it also slid vertically, meaning the whole thing disappeared, rather than simply having an open slot in the center. Thanks to the Tundra, drivers can now slide entire rear windows (in pickup trucks) down, getting that open-air feeling and also allowing loads to extend into or out of the cab, all without fiddling with some little latch and sliding a tiny piece of glass that doesn’t seem to want to go anywhere.
8. Before the 2013 Ram 1500, there were trucks, there were storage boxes, and there were locks, however they were all separate. Finally, in 2013, Ram put them all together in the form of the updated RamBox Cargo Management System. The RamBox, a lockable storage compartment built into the side of the 1500’s bed, was not new to the truck, but Ram streamlined the RamBox’s integration with the rest of the truck, making it lockable from the key fob. While this may not sound like a huge innovation in truck technology, it was. Before the more integrated RamBox, people who kept tools in their trucks wasted time fumbling with many different keys to get access to the boxes. With everything on the key fob now, it is no longer necessary to keep keys for different boxes or even to have to worry about locking the boxes. Lock the truck, and your tools are now safely locked away as well.
7. In 2010, Ford took a sledgehammer to the performance pickup truck segment in the form of the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. Before the Raptor, performance pickup trucks, like the GMC Syclone, were generally low to the ground and meant to go fast on tarmac. Ford decided it liked the go-fast part, but decided the truck should go fast not only on the road, but also in the desert, on the trail—really it should go fast wherever going was possible. To accomplish this, Ford packed in a 6.2-liter 8-cylinder engine and made the suspension significantly more off-road friendly. The result was the Raptor, and it has changed the game. While there are still performance trucks built for the street out there (think of Ford’s SVT Lightning), there is a growing trend toward building more trucks for off-road racing. While GM and Ram haven’t officially challenged the Raptor yet, Toyota will this coming year in the form of the 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. We hope this new competition will breed more awesome and insane off-road creations.
6. There have been many innovations for fuel efficiency in the history of vehicles, especially in the last decade, but for pickups, the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel engine may be the most interesting. It may not be well-known that hybrid powertrains were somewhat of a flop for pickups, and they’ve all but disappeared in the last few years. But Ram’s EcoDiesel could prove to be the fuel-efficiency innovation that pickups need. It’s a relatively new concept to see diesel being used for something other than straight power. And Ram’s EcoDiesel engine yields an impressive improvement over other pickup gasoline engines.
5. The Chevrolet Suburban is an industry giant. The longest-running nameplate in the United States, the Suburban has been around since 1935, when it made history. Before the Suburban came around, people worked mostly with wagons or trucks. In 1933, Chevrolet began making an innovative car, the first-generation Suburban, which it produced by taking a wagon body and mounting it on a truck frame. The original Suburban was sold only to the military, however, it proved so successful that Chevy offered the second generation to the general public starting in 1935. By combining the durability of a truck with the utility of a wagon, Chevy had a vehicle popular with working people, as they now were able have a rugged car that did not expose their cargo to the elements as a truck would. The idea took off and hasn’t slowed down since. The Suburban is still in production today, is still based on a truck platform and is as durable as ever. While SUVs have become more luxury cars than work trucks these days (something pickup trucks are getting dangerously close to doing as well), the idea was novel at the time and spawned one of the most popular and successful segments in automotive history.
4. Ford has stated that the 2015 Ford F-150 will be one of the most revolutionary pickups ever developed. Its new pickups will be made out of aluminum, which sheds 700 pounds compared to earlier steel iterations. Ford believes the change will increase efficiency without compromising anything from the previous F-150s. The loss of weight is nothing to worry about, as this material will in no way compromise safety, and the transition to aluminum has been made by a plethora of military vehicles. This aluminum is lighter and, Ford claims, stronger than steel. If this becomes the new norm for vehicle bodies, it will certainly prove to be a revolutionary change.
3. Pickups tend to be large, particularly recent ones, but let’s take a second and talk about the Toyota Pickup, the first consumer compact pickup in the U.S. (introduced in 1969). Compact pickups, or mini trucks, are probably the most widely used form of pickup worldwide, despite holding a relatively small part of the U.S. market. That may change with the return of compact pickup development by American manufacturers, including GM’s current production of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. The compact pickup category has historically been dominated by Japanese makers, and you can trace the origin of these tiny pickups back to the 1969 Toyota Hilux. The short-wheelbase version of the Hilux continued until 1972, but it was the first compact consumer truck.
2. Historically one of the most important innovations in the development of pickups is the inclusion of the double cab. Let’s look at the 1961 International Harvester Travelette to find the first example of the 4-seat pickup truck. The double, or crew, cab transformed the pickup truck from a single-passenger vehicle to a potential carpool vehicle. This is a very significant change. Not only did it increase commercial and industrial potential productivity (you can get more workers around with fewer vehicles more quickly), it also increased the pickup’s potential in the non-working market. The Travelette really set the groundwork for making the pickup a family-accessible and very useful vehicle. The first 4-door pickup was introduced in the 1961 iteration of the Travelette, allowing for up to 6 passengers.
1. If you’re young and grew up in snow country, chances are you never saw a 2-wheel-drive pickup until well into your teenage years. In the land where snow is king and many houses are miles from paved roads, 4-wheel drive is a necessity. Thanks to the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon, many pickup trucks now offer it. Before 1946, 4-wheel drive was available only on military trucks, with Ford, Dodge and GMC leading the way. Dodge decided to shake things up a bit and came up with the Power Wagon. Unlike the other 4×4 manufacturers, Dodge believed there was a sizable civilian market for 4×4 trucks and offered the Power Wagon to the general public. The idea took off, and pickup trucks as we know them today were born.
What is your favorite truck technology?
-jharrington and zwaller
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