Americans have had a long love affair with power, trucks, and convertibles, and the combination seems like a match made in heaven. While there have been convertible pickup trucks in the past, the segment represents an untapped market for automakers and a possible new love for consumers. Let’s look back at the history of convertible trucks to figure out if one will ever be made again.
The Dodge Dakota Sport convertible
One of the first modern convertible trucks was the 1989 Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible. The Dakota convertible was a collaboration between Chrysler and the American Sunroof Company, with the American Sunroof Company finishing the convertible conversion.
Due to this collaboration, the 1989 Dakota Convertible became the first American made convertible pickup since the release of the Ford Model A and was envisioned as a way to add fun and excitement to the Dakota pickup lineup. Convertibles have always been cool, so what better way to enliven the Dakota following than with a convertible model?
The Dakota Sport Convertible featured a standard 3.9-liter V6 engine or a more powerful V8 engine and many premium features. Still, despite the uniqueness of the vehicle, only about 2500 models were sold in the first year and only 1,100 in 1990. Unfortunately for Dodge, sales continued to stall enough that 1991 was the last model year for the Dakota Sport Convertible.
The Chevrolet SSR
As General Motors headed towards a 2009 bankruptcy and an uncertain future, engineers and designers searched for a solution and were willing to take unprecedented risks.
From 2003 to 2006, Chevrolet manufactured the Chevrolet SSR (Super Sport Roadster), a pickup truck featuring a retractable hardtop convertible. Equipped with a powerful V-8 engine and retro styling that mimicked a classic ’40’s style Chevrolet pickup truck, designers also took cues from the failed Dodge Dakota in an attempt to stimulate sales.
Not only was the styling of the SSR unique, but the design of its convertible top was as well. While the roof looked like a standard hardtop when up, the retractable top was made of several metal panels. Lowering and raising the top could be done automatically or manually, although manual operation required a unique tool to lock the top in place.
Introduced as a 2004 model in January of 2004, marketing efforts included using the SSR as the official pace car of the 2003 Indianapolis 500. In spite of the publicity and marketing efforts of GM, the vehicle sold below expectations.
With less than 9,000 trucks sold in its debut year and just over 24,000 sold throughout production, and the announced closing of the Lansing, Michigan facility that produced the vehicle in 2006, production came to an end.
Plans for new convertible trucks
While convertible pickup trucks have proven to be risky endeavors for auto manufacturers, truck buyers, as well as convertible lovers, still have an interest in the segment. It’s just a matter of hitting the right balance between truck utility and convertible fun.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator
Jeep is one of the most iconic names in American automotive history. The brand is synonymous with adventure and the outdoors from the CJ series to the Wrangler. The Jeep brand is designed to handle the harshest terrain with a rugged utilitarian look and is known for removable doors and convertible tops.
In April of 2019, Jeep introduced the 2020 Jeep Gladiator to the pickup truck market and received rave reviews. The Gladiator stands alone in the pickup truck market, not only because of the iconic Jeep brand but also as the only soft-top convertible pickup truck on the market.
The 2021 Ford Bronco
About three years ago, Ford announced that they were planning on reintroducing the Bronco name as a mid-size SUV. While the Bronco has traditionally been an SUV, there have been rumors that a full-size, convertible pickup truck is also in the works.
Convertible pickup truck fans have been encouraged by patent images from Ford detailing a removable roof and doors on the Bronco and, most recently, a pickup truck with a roof that stows in the bed. While rumors about the Bronco pickup have run rampant, there is no confirmation from Ford at this point.
While the convertible pickup market seems to be limited in offerings as well as consumer interest, there is still a large segment of pickup trucks and convertible buyers that share a love for the vehicles.