The Modern Pickup Truck: Definitely Not Daddy’s Half-Ton!

The modern pickup truck is quickly transforming into something everybody kinda always wanted, but nobody ever really asked for (not very loudly, anyway). What was wrong with a simple, three-speed half-ton, with 3.73s and a long bed?

Out With The Old – In With The New

There was plenty wrong with that setup, looking at it today, but the pickup truck has always been faithful to one single mission – to selflessly serve and labor. The pickup truck never needed a 24-speaker, panoramic sound system; it never needed dual-climate functionality and seat warmers – and it would have been just fine with two regular window cranks.

Something happened, however,  in the last two decades  – something that seemed to affect nearly all trucks equally. The two crappy, paper-cone door speakers and tape deck were replaced with Bluetooth streaming, hands-free systems; the three sliding levers that operated the rudimentary climate control system were segmented into enough buttons and knobs to populate a Gulfstream radio panel; the two mechanical window regulators were exchanged for a network of controllers and actuators enough to power every window, mirror, winch, spotlight, and sunroof it may be equipped with.

In 20-short years, the pickup truck went from being a utilitarian workhorse to an even MORE powerful workhorse, with more bells and whistles that you could hope to shake a stick at. They come at a premium, of course; but the simple fact that your pickup can just about run you six-figures – straight off the lot – is something of a spectacular wonder. And it’s not that they aren’t worth it, but are they “worth it?”

Big Boy Trucks – Big Boy Bucks

To each – their own. If you have the money, sure; go ahead and splurge on that 2019 Dodge Ram Limited. You can equip it with the proprietary eTorque feature (which is basically a multi-function electric-assist motor) for an additional 130ft/lbs at the wheels; hook it with the Harmon/Kardon “Limited Level 1” equipment set; even throw on a premium off-road package you’re never going to use. It’s your money. Fully-loading that truck – ripe with every option in the book – however, can put you north of $90,000 after you finally slide your debt-riddled cheeks into the dual-phase leather seats.

It all sounds prohibitively expensive (because it absolutely is); but have you ever taken a peek inside a decked out 2019 1500 Ram? It may not be an AMG, but it’s closer now to a space ship than anything you could have imagined, looking at what they were offering us prior to 2000.

The 2018 GMC Denali is the same story. The truck starts out a $67,595, but you’re not even getting a good motor for that. You want that motor, buddy? Open that wallet up! $2,745 is what it’s gonna take to slide you behind the 420hp 6.2L. If you like the factory wheel option in the six-spoke, 22″ wheel; $3,875 just fizzled a whole year out of your child’s community college education fund. You want Brembo brakes? Don’t even ask how much those are.

The High Country Silverado for the 2018 model-year clocks in at just under $85,000 with all of the 11 package options maxed out, but the 2018 F-150 Limited isn’t going to sit on the sidelines while everyone else crowds the upper segment of the pickup game. Dual-stage sunroof on top, 10-speed, joint-venture transmission between Ford and GM on the bottom, and a labyrinth of features and options inside.

The 20-Year Trend

According to the Detroit Free Press, the highest price increase by a vehicle segment between 2008 and 2018 was seen in the light-duty pickup truck category. Data sourced from an Edumnds study illustrates just how drastic this breakout trend is: from the aforementioned timeframe, there was a 48% increase in pickup truck price.

Obviously, this is an unsustainable trend – but it’s also telling of the pickup truck’s transformation from a workhorse, to a workhorse with class. (I would almost be tempted to use the phrase “show pony” here, but the massive gargantuan tow ratings would refute that quicker than it could leave my lips. GM Authority is already reporting the 2020 Silverado HD will have a 35,000lb towing capacity!)

It’s interesting to note that features like crew cabs have been used on pickups since the late-’60s/early-’70s. The interior frills didn’t really catch on then, and trucks remained the simple machines we needed them to be through and through.

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Whatever happened in the last two decades isn’t something that’s likely to reverse – ever. Our vehicle platforms are all slowly gearing up for the inevitable shift to electric power (like the hybrid Challenger), so don’t expect technology to go anywhere. Start saving up now, or consider buying preowned (which is actually a really great option to consider).