Skip to main content

Pickup truck innovation is nothing new at Ford. Henry Ford gets credit for coining the term “pickup,” and his company created the first factory-built version. That truck, based on the 1925 Model T Roadster, fulfilled the needs of farmers and tradespeople. Though pickup trucks weren’t new, having a big automaker like Ford producing them opened doors — or, more accurately, new Ford tailgates. 

Fancy truck tailgate tech has exploded

Man using 2024 Ford F-150 Pro Access Tailgate
2024 Ford F-150 Pro Access Tailgate | Ford Motor Company

Over the past 100 years, tailgate design and function have ranged from simplistic operation to automated precision. Early tailgate designs used chains and hooks to allow three-position operation: closed, horizontal, and vertical. In those days, anti-rattle rubber tubing was a big deal, but recently, we’ve seen an explosion of tailgate tech

Pickup trucks, SUVs, and wagons benefit from new tailgate tech. It’s common to find power liftgates on SUVs and wagons with hands-free operation and preset height memory. Pickup truck tailgates offer a range of features, like work surfaces with built-in measuring scales, clamping pockets, and fold-down steps. Similar to early station wagon tailgates, new tailgate designs allow door-like operation, opening from the side or a conventional tailgate. 

Ford has a history of advancing tailgate technology

A 2024 Ford F-150 with its tailgate down
2024 Ford F-150 | Ford Motor Company

Ford recently released “A Century of Tailgate Innovation” as part of an advertising campaign. The multimedia presentation takes readers on a trip through the years following innovations of tailgate technology. 

It began with the 1925 Model T cargo box’s adjustable tailgate and the 1929 Model A station wagon’s windowless version. During the 1960s, Ford introduced retractable window tailgates for its wagons and “Instant-Action” latches for its pickup tailgates. Power liftgates and assisted-opening tailgates with fold-out steps came in the 2000s. The 2010s saw innovations like “gesture-based” hands-free liftgate operation. 

In 2023, Ford introduced the Pro Access Tailgate with swing door openings indented at 37, 70, and 100 degrees. The indents allow the door to remain at the desired preset opening, allowing truckbed access while towing or parked closely.

If it ain’t broke, keep fixing it?

Like other automobile technology, truck tailgates continue evolving to offer solutions to problems most consumers don’t know they have. For example, Ford’s new Pro Access Tailgate opens to 37 degrees for access when towing a trailer. It makes life easier in some instances, but it’s still a relatively small opening to access anything in the bed. However, it’s a new take on the technology that first appeared as the Magic Doorgate on 1960s station wagons. 

Still, not all tailgate innovations were a good idea. In the 1980s, Ford introduced a removable tailgate for its F-Series trucks that required no tools. Though the concept allowed the convenience of removing the tailgate to access heavy cargo, it resulted in tailgate thefts

However, as with the creation of the pickup truck, “necessity is the mother of invention,” the old saying goes. Only time will tell if Ford’s Pro Access Tailgate will solve enough problems to carry on or fizzle out. Like the innovations that led to it, it’ll probably lead to something else, only to return branded another way.