Not many decades ago, the four-door sedan was the most popular road-going mode of transportation amongst the masses. Cars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic were permanent fixtures of the streetscape, globally. Then the SUV came along. What was once relegated to estate- or desert-traversing duties, gradually gained popularity and was appreciated for its added space and luggage-hauling capabilities. And now, every household prefers one or one of its less-abled cousin, the crossover.
Yet another trend emerging in the Middle East is the increasing sale of pickup trucks. But this is nothing new for other parts of the world. Across the oceans, in North America, pick-up trucks have been outselling global family favourites like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord for years. We are just a little late to the party!
The intentions are contrasting, though. In the US and Canada, the rugged body-on-frame vehicles serve a wide variety of purposes, that include hauling large items that serve independent contractors who also double their work vehicle as a family conveyance.
The obvious selling point: In the Emirates, though, we’ve always had mid-size pick-up trucks. This great nation was built using several of these. And I know so because my dad used to drive one in the early ‘80s. But I’m not talking about these utilitarian vehicles. I’m talking about new-age full-size pick-up trucks that are driven mostly to trumpet the ‘Mine is bigger than yours’ slogan.
The interest for these exquisitely-styled behemoths make sense in glitzy cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the auto market is flooded with Mercs and Beemers, and there is a certain fatigue associated with German luxury brands. People turn to these pick-up trucks to highlight their presence or for a sense of identity.
Yes, of course, this stereotype is losing credibility. Just like its SUV brethren, the once-utilitarian brutish trucks have evolved to become high-fashion motoring strata. They aren’t purchased by heavy-duty-gloves and rubber-boot wearing blue collar workers, but by IT professionals, bankers, accountants…and the privileged kids, of course.
On offer: At the leading edge of this multi-brand catalogue, is what I call the ‘triple threat’ — the oh-so-popular Ford F-150, the Chevrolet Silverado (and its rebadged sibling GMC) and the RAM from FCA. These are full-size pick-up trucks that, when equipped with a “supercab” with the 8ft feet cargo box, can reach lengths of 20 feet.
Another reason for their popularity is that they aren’t as expensive as one may imagine. The cheapest ones start at around Dh100,000. But these are bare-boned single cab vehicles that seat two, with plastic interiors and single-colour multimedia screens smaller than your cell phone. Climb higher up the price bracket and you’d be astonished. Once you get aboard the latest generation of RAM trucks in their ‘limited’ trim with dual-tone plush leather surfaces, 12-inch infotainment screen and array of luxury features, you would have a hard time convincing yourself that this is a pick-up truck and not some S-Class rival. The top trims of the Silverado and F-150 are just as fetching.
And it is not just the internal niceties. Trucks they may be, but they have been given the aesthetic and aerodynamic treatments to help them rival any of the posh SUVs in the market.
Practicality with a capital ‘P’: So, let’s imagine that you do plan on buying one of these trucks for reasons other than showmanship, do they actually work as a work or family vehicle? And the answer is a resounding yes! These trucks come with variety of box lengths, and if you equip them properly, you can haul a variety of goods, furniture, etc.
You can even place a tent at the back for a night out camping with the mates. In the most powerful trims, like with the F-150 with the 3.5-litre EcoBoost engine, you can tow as much as 18,400 pounds, which is good enough number to haul your jet skis and quad bikes on a trailer and more. On the inside, you have about a dozen cupholders and ISOFIX points to mount a child seat. They do not compromise on safety either. Depending on the trim, they come with a rear camera, blind spot detection, cross traffic alert, collision alert and so on and so forth.
Unlike the time of our grandfathers, where the highlight of a pickup truck was an automatic transmission. These complex machines are a whole new animal.
The downsides of owning a full-size truck: They are gas guzzlers. Our collective consciousness is moving towards a more sustainable way of living. And yes, some of these manufacturers have introduced small displacement turbocharged 4-pot engines and technologies like cylinder deactivation system and aluminium body panels, but the sheer size and weight mean that they leave their “carbon footprint” wherever they go.
The other real issue is parking. You are ‘set’, if you reside in a villa or communities with open parking. But in buildings that do not offer such space, articulation becomes a real problem — 3-point turns become 5-point turns and sometimes more. Also, there is that issue about height.
The more affordable and practical propositions: The Ford Ranger, Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max still offer plenty of utility with a certain amount of aspirational value. Let’s not forget the Jeep Gladiator either.
If you wish to go even cheaper, you can choose from a plethora of vehicles like the Tata Xenon and offerings from Chinese manufacturers like the Great Wall that have a modest starting price of around Dh50,000. Yes, you can spruce up these relatively-boring options with a select aftermarket parts, but here in the UAE, the majority of the public prefers “turnkey” and ready-to-drive vehicles and not projects.
The future of the segment: What we may witness are the same sequence of events that happened with the SUV segment. As soon as Porsche, Maserati, Bentley and Rolls Royce, luxury brands that were once known solely for their limousines and sports cars, noticed that SUV sales were going up, they wanted a share of the pie and created their own SUVs. We may see something similar here.
The Tesla is already in early, with the eccentric-looking Cybertruck, which some may say looks like an idea they snatched from a 10-year-old’s diary. But vehicles like these also stretch the limits of conformity. Also following suit is the fully-electric GMC HUMMER EV. Both of which will be available in the near future.