The gentrification of the roughshod has gestated for more than a generation. There's a new contingent of drivers that use a pickup in place of a Corolla, but that's just a small slice of what's gone on in truckdom. The last decade, in particular, has seen an explosion of innovation in trucks.
Here are the top 10 and why they matter to you.
1. Secret Storage
While it's just Ram pickups you'll see right now rocking flip-top lids down the sides of the bed, it's a fair bet that everyone else is going to come up with their own copy. A nice touch with the RamBox option is that there's less need for a typical truck box, which cuts into the bed space. Sounds like a win-win.
Why This Matters: Security in an open truck bed has always been a problem; this solves it.
GM offered a composite bed called "ProTec," though that's been discontinued. One downside to the newer-tech truck beds is cost, apparently, and making it an option reduced the take rate because buyers preferred to spend that money on other goodies. Still, the idea itself is great: What's not to love about a pickup truck bed that won't corrode into oblivion after seven years of plow-truck duty? The use of alternative materials is also likely to increase as automakers chase the new CAFE brass ring.
Why This Matters: Light, strong and durable. The sight of an old rusty truck bed might be a thing of the past when more trucks go composite.
3. The Tow-Rating War
It all started boiling a few years ago when the Toyota Tundra took direct aim at Ford, GM, and Chrysler trucks. The Tundra may have kicked it off, but the battle keeps on going. If the half-ton 1500s, F150s, and 5.7-liter iForce yankers aren't enough for you, there's always the trek up-market to the heavy-duty side of the tracks. The HD towing wars are just like the half-ton battlefield, just amplified to "11". In any case, if you have to tow something, today's trucks can do it without breaking a sweat.
Why This Matters: As automakers chase tow ratings, they'll ultimately have to build stronger trucks to handle the load. This is evolution at work.
4. Hybrid Powertrains
The idea is good, but it drives the cost of the truck up pretty high without bringing the resulting gain in ability. What you get when you buy a two-mode hybrid pickup is a vehicle priced like an HD that's really not capable of towing and a mileage benefit that will take decades to repay itself. This is an awesome idea that turns out to be less great in reality.
Why This Matters: The most popular vehicle in the U.S. isn't a car - it's a truck. By focusing on making them more efficient - even if hybrid isn't the answer - automakers are doing the right thing.
5. Crew Cabs
Be it clamshell-style doors or conventional-opening points of entry, buyers can't help but be enticed by cabs with useful space for more than just a foreman and first mate. Slightly extended "King Cabs" started everyone thinking back in the day, but occasional-use jumpseats just aren't going to get it done. These days, a truck that fills the family-sedan role and wears four doors is a common sight, and it makes more sense for a lot of buyers.
Why This Matters: For those who need a truck for work but can't afford a second vehicle to cart around their family, this is the perfect solution.
6. Performance off-roaders
Other super-trucks are likely to come down the pike and join the Raptor. The Ram Power Wagon is a little more of the traditionalist in terms of off-roading, but that doesn't make it any less fierce.
Why This Matters: Off-road truck racing actually provides a rich source of engineering lessons for carmakers. Vehicles like the Raptor are perhaps a bit much for the road, but they represent another thread in the pursuit of the better truck.
7. Luxury Pickups
Cadillac also jumped into the deep end of the pool with the Escalade EXT, a highly polished version of the Chevrolet Avalanche.
Why This Matters: In reality, expensive trucks and SUVs fuel profits for many car companies (yes, even Toyota). For buyers who want their trucks to do everything and look the part, consider those vehicles as investments in fueling development elsewhere in the company – from small cars to electrics to beyond.
8. Never Lose Your Tool Again
The computer uses an RFID system developed with DeWalt and ThinkMagic called Tool Link to wirelessly scan the inventory of tools. If your left-handed circular saw is sitting on the deck you spent all day building, instead of in its place in the back, the computer will alert you before you even leave the driveway. A more analog feature of Ford Work Solutions is Cable Lock, a way of securing your big stuff so that it doesn't sprout legs. For now, Ford's got the lock on locking up, inventorying, and mobile office functionality, though it's certain we'll be seeing Rams, Sierras, and even Titans and Tundras with similar systems in the near future.
Why This Matters: Electronic inventory systems are coming to trucks first, but expect them elsewhere - "never lose Jimmy's pacifier again!" in the coming years.
9. "Anti-Truck" Trucks
Regardless of its shortcomings in brawn, unibody trucks show a lot of promise for many users. There's plenty of clever touches for buyers, like a trunk in the cargo bed and a crew-cab interior that's carlike in its serenity. Fuel economy is better than heavier traditional trucks, too. It's not the replacement for the F150, for sure, but car-based trucks have a lot of practical applications where efficiency gains would be welcome. Don't believe us? Ford thinks so, that's why the next Explorer is swearing off its frame, and the Kia Sorento just did the same thing for its second generation. If you didn't need some extra bulk to survive winter in the Donner Pass, wouldn't it make sense to lose some excess weight?
Why This Matters: When Honda enters the truck game, either the entire segment has "jumped the shark" or there really is a need for a truck you drive with gardening gloves. The definition of utility means different things as we define our suburban DIY lives in new ways.
10. Boxy "Trucks"
Other regions of the world have different species of truck, usually on more compact platforms that are just right for many users who previously had to settle for the old-school choices. Ford's Transit Connect is one example, a respite from the full-frame one-ton overkill that used to be the only game in town. Its square shape offers plenty of space, while its chassis is based on first-generation Focus instead of F150, meaning real efficiency for your small concern.
Soon to be available for purchase is Nissan's NV hard worker, and the Mahindra Pickup will also be on sale soon, direct from India. Just ask your FedEx guy what he thinks of his Sprinter.
Why This Matters: In reality a truck has a lot of shortcomings other than dismal fuel economy and drivability. In many cases, vans and one-box-shaped vehicles make more sense.