The Average Pickup Truck Has Dramatically Changed in the Past 20 Years

Those who drive a pickup truck have probably noticed how every make and model keeps growing. For those who chose a compact when car buying, you’ve probably felt dwarfed when these beasts pull up next to you.

All vehicles see changes from year-to-year, including trucks. Pickups have changed greatly since the turn of the century, attracting a devoted following while meeting more and more people’s needs. Sales have picked up in the past few years thanks to better gas mileage and appealing styling.

The pickup truck’s appeal

For many, a pickup truck is the quintessential work vehicle. Many in the construction business and other industries require a bed to carry their equipment. When it comes to recreation, the pickup bed also offers the ability to haul plenty of gear and tow literal tons.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States is now Pickup Nation. Most trucks are made and sold stateside. Part of their popularity can be attributed to marketing. There’s also an incentive for consumers to buy pickup trucks thanks to Section 179 of the IRS code. And American-made trucks are more desirable than their foreign-made counterparts due to the Chicken Tax, a 25 percent tariff that President Lyndon Johnson enacted in 1963.

Last year, for the first time in history, pickups and truck-based utility vehicles, including SUVs, outsold cars. Pickup trucks now make up some 70 percent of new vehicles sold in the country. Notably, due to the pandemic, there have been many truck discounts and fewer expensive financing options for new trucks.

The pickup truck is growing and evolving

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One popular size booster is the crew cab. Crew cabs began to draw interest in the late 1990s. They allow more people to ride in the cab, making these pickup trucks more crew-friendly and family-friendly. But trucks have also gotten taller.

From the outside, they can look intimidating. But on the inside, pickups have gotten quieter and more elegant.

From 1990 through 2019, the pickup packed on weight, an average of 1,142 pounds. Pickups are taller than ever before with reinforced frame rails. They also have heavier suspensions made for long hauls and interiors designed for comfort.

Last year’s MotorTrend Truck of the Year was the Ram Heavy-Duty. Big grille, big wheels, and big towing capacity come standard. This 6-foot-9-inch-tall monster can tow nearly 20,000 pounds.

And speaking of grilles: They used to be designed for airflow to the motor. But grilles today have evolved beyond function. They’ve become brand signatures. It’s important for manufacturers’ vehicles to offer distinctive styling.

The Silverado HD shouts Chevrolet with its big grille and knee-high thick bumper. The Silverado 1500 double-cab stands between 75.6 and 78.45 inches. This pickup truck grew 10 inches longer than the previous generation. But who’s counting?

Comparing brands when car buying

Analyzing pickup truck brands is sometimes like comparing apples to oranges. Make a list of your must-haves, followed by desired options. Consider where you travel and how you’ll use the vehicle. Do you need a heavy-duty work truck or a weekend adventurer? Will you need to haul heavy items or tow a trailer? Will you drive it mostly on the freeway, off-road, or around town?

According to MotorTrend, the 2020 Chevy Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 offer the best fuel efficiency in V8 models. With rear-wheel drive, these trucks get 17 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined. MotorTrend also deemed the full-size Silverado 1500 Duramax the most efficient truck, beating out even smaller pickups such as the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Ford Ranger.

Though Ford’s F-Series didn’t make MotorTrend’s best-mpg list, it has been and remains one of America’s favorite trucks. The F-150 has always been Ford’s most competitive seller. Back in 1995, it offered a convenient two-door cab with a 6.5-foot bed that proved popular. In 2020, the four-door version saw more sales.

For some drivers, their truck and its size are status symbols. That’s great for automakers but not necessarily consumers’ wallets. Consider your needs and wants carefully before buying a pickup truck.