Pickups are getting bigger

A 12 foot lane is NOT shareable side-by-side

And as Dan Neil, car guy for the Wall Street Journal points out: “Are pickups really getting bigger, on average, or do they just look scarier? Both. The average pickup gained 1,142 pounds between 1990 and 2019.”

Safety failings: “(during Trump administration, the) NHTSA proposed that new pedestrian-safety tests for SUVs and trucks be included in the New Car Assessment Program in 2015. But as of this writing, the agency had not issued guidance on new standards. When asked, the industry trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation had no comment.”

Being ever-heavier with ever-boxier body design, they use more fuel than a car, of course but what about pollution? nothing in the articles, Dan missed the boat here — pickups and SUVs are typically in “high” bins. They pollute a lot

CAFE vs. Toxic emissions

There are numerous regulatory actions that have evolved over the decades that favor large (larger) and more-polluting vehicles; and more dangerous(not subject to the same safety regulations as cars); keep in mind the regulatory agencies have been captured by the manufacturers, who profit greater the greater the size, e.g. from autoblog about a year ago:

“Heavy-duty pickups are not subject to the same federal fuel economy rules as lighter trucks and sedans. They fall under less stringent standards applied to commercial trucks, where a vehicle’s capacity for work allows for more fuel consumption. These pickups do not have mileage estimates on their price stickers as lighter trucks do… The growing sales of heavy-duty pickups and their evolution toward luxury, personal use vehicles is drawing criticism from advocates of curbing carbon dioxide emissions”.

These sentiments among what I’ll just call environmental activists seem to uniformly completely miss the boat on toxic emissions — the ones that are harmful to health; cause smog, brown cloud etc. — and apparently focus entirely on fuel consumption. What about human health? The CO2 emissions (i.e. fuel consumption in an ICE engine) thing is widely seen as a leftie-tree-hugger issue; and that’s the way the manufactures like it, they can ignore the toxic emissions their products produce and “nobody” pays for. Shouldn’t we all, left right and center, be concerned about toxics and want them minimized?

See here for references to EPA and (toxic) pollution bins: /ozone-and-cafe/ — “heavy duty” light trucks have been subject to no or lighter toxic emissions standards for decades. It’s a convoluted/complicated system  involving bins, tiers, ZEV, LEV, LEV II; see smog rating. Note that under what are referred to as light duty passenger vehicle smog rules, the largest of the heavy duty pickups aren’t even covered — “The light duty smog regulations cover passenger vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) up to 10,000 pounds… Large pickup trucks and vans (e.g., Ford F-350) are considered heavy duty vehicles and are handled differently” you can read ‘differently’ as meaning less stringently, i.e. more polluting.


The rise in pedestrian traffic fatalities has been widely reported; what continues to be going unaddressed is how SUV/”light” truck design is adding to the epidemic. It was noted at least as long ago as 2004 in published studies that the design of SUVs was associated with a huge increase in the severity and quantity of pedestrian crash outcomes… yet as Dan Neil notes any new rules about their design impact have never been brought forth by regulators, even as the fraction of “light trucks” (which includes pickups, heavy-duty pickups, SUVs, etc). Presumably because the manufactures don’t like it; presumalby due to the much larger profits they earn by selling “trucks” compared to “cars”.

Vehicle Width

In terms of sharing a lane side-by-side between a vehicle and bicycle, the most important measurement is vehicle width. Interestingly the largest, heaviest duty full-sized pickup trucks aren’t really all that wide — they tend to use the same vehicle body dimensions across their pickup line… They have, however seemingly recently put on mirrors that stick out further and further, making even a 14′ lane (often referred to as a “wide” lane; most lanes are 12 feet or less) un-shareable side-by-side.

For example in the graphic above, a stock Ford F-250‘s vehicle body is a mere 80 inches, same as an F-150, while it’s overall width with standard mirrors is 104.9″ (over 8 feet).

“Large pickups accounted for 16.7% of overall sales last year(2020)”, see news article below.

Very tall blocks views:

Some Media reports

Dan Neil is WSJ’s long-time automotive reporter:

Pickup Trucks Are Getting Huge. Got a Problem With That?

By Dan Neil Aug. 1, 2020
A FEW MONTHS ago, on an ordinary day in an unremarkable Costco parking lot, I was nearly squashed by an unusually large pickup. Thank God I was wearing a mask.

As that chrome grille closed on me like a man-eating Norelco shaver, time slowed. It seemed I was watching myself from afar, being nimble for a man my age, darting from the path of a towering, limousine-black pickup with temporary plates, whose driver barely checked his pace. Jerk.

What the hell was that thing? A 2020 GMC Sierra HD Denali? It was huge! The domed hood was at forehead level. The paramedics would have had to extract me from the grille with a spray hose, like Randall Jarrell’s ball-turret gunner.

He didn’t even see me.

Later, returning to my car, I noticed something: The parking lot was dotted with similarly enormous luxury pickups—many new, many taking up two spaces: Ram, Ford, Chevy, GMC. They stood out like Percherons in a herd of Shetland ponies.

What is going on here? When did pickups get so big? And why are XL-sized pickups so big now?

I know. Pickup trucks at Costco. Film at 11. Except that in April, U.S. sales of pickups surpassed automobiles for the first time ever—about 112 years, give or take. Trucks and truck-based sport-utilities now account for roughly 70% of new vehicles sold in the U.S.

How we came to be Pickup Nation is a longer story (cheap gas, the Chicken Tax, IRS Section 179, marketing). But this year, to help move the tin during the pandemic, U.S. auto makers laid out a bounty of discounts and cheap financing, including 0% interest for 84 months and deferred-payment plans.

“Pickups without a doubt benefited from the great deals,” said Mark Schirmer, spokesperson for market service providers Cox Automotive. “And the deals were particularly great for consumers buying expensive vehicles.” The data suggest these incentives also juiced a boomlet in XL-sized, heavy-duty pickups, otherwise known as ¾-ton and 1-ton pickups, for private use.

That’s right: Gucci cowboys. Historically aimed at commercial customers, sole proprietors, horse-haulers and mega-RVers, heavy-duty pickups are stronger and taller than ordinary (half-ton) trucks, with cabs mounted high above reinforced frame rails and heavy, long-travel suspensions. But HD trucks have evolved in the past decade, irradiated with the same prestige-luxury rays as light-duty trucks.

Behold MotorTrend 2020 Truck of the Year, the Ram Heavy-Duty. In Limited trim (about $65,000 with four-wheel drive but before options) the 2500 HD sports an elaborate chromified grille that gleams like a tea service. Its flight deck glows with untrucky amenities such as acoustically insulated glass; active noise canceling; 12-inch center touch screen; wood trim, premium leather—all paired with a maximum 19,680-pound towing capacity. With the optional cab lights, it measures over 6-feet-9 inches tall.

Thus has been born a uniquely American vehicle type: the mega-luxury mega-pickup.

It seems to be resonating. While sales of Silverado light-duty were off 18.6% in the second quarter, sales of the HD model sales were off less than a point. GMC’s light-duty Sierra was down 9.5%, while sales of our menacing new friend, the Sierra HD, were up 7.6% in the second quarter and 21.5% year-to-date.

Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles don’t break out HD sales from pickups overall. However, Ram’s average transaction price in the second quarter soared above $50,000, according to a Cox Automotive analysis of data from Kelley Blue Book. Ford F-Series sales fell 23% (to 180,825 units) but its ATP was mostly unaffected—$51,688, the highest among pickups.

In July, J.D. Power declared Sierra HD the king of the bro-dozers, placing it first in its 2020 U.S. APEAL Study of Large Heavy-Duty Pickups, which tracks owners’ excitement and emotional attachment in the first 90 days.

“The front end was always the focal point,” GM designer Karan Moorjani told Muscle Cars & Trucks e-zine. “We spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing it looks like it’s going to come get you.”

Mission accomplished.

But are pickups really getting bigger, on average, or do they just look scarier? The answers are somewhat and definitely. The average pickup on the road gained 1,142 pounds between 1990 and 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and 730 pounds since 2000.

“One of the most significant changes in that time was the arrival of crew-cab configurations, which added cab space to make them more family and work friendly,” said Mike Levine, Ford spokesperson.

In 2011, a change in the way the feds calculate vehicle fuel economy (the so-called “footprint rule”) gave domestic truck makers incentive to go big. Ever since, GMC, Chevy, Ram and Ford have been locked in a competitive feedback loop chasing best-in-class attributes and capacities—the “towing/hauling” wars. For MY 2019, for example, Ram’s 1500 Crew Cab gained 3.9 inches in overall length over a 4.1-inch longer wheelbase. In the same model-year, the Chevy Silverado gained 1.7 inches in length on a 3.9-inch longer wheelbase.

As a result, new light-duty pickup dimensions are approaching those of heavy-duty pickups. While the 2021 F-150 is about 18 inches shorter than the equivalent F-250, it is the same width (79.9). Mr. Levine noted that the company has gone to a common-cab design, using the same four-door living quarters for both light- and heavy-duty models.

‘The face of these trucks is where the action is, a Chevy must shout Chevy. Every pickup has become a rolling brand billboard and the billboards are big.’
Ask any kid with a crayon. If you draw the box in the middle bigger, you have to make the ones on the end bigger, too.

Which brings us to the 2020 Silverado HD—10 inches longer, 1.8 inches wider, and 1.6 inches taller than the previous model. The big Chevy’s challenging kisser comprises a thick, knee-high bumper; a central grille opening; several sets of lighting assemblies; a full-width transverse element helpfully informing with the message CHEVROLET…and then, above that, between very square corners, is a whole other layer, then a peaked hood with a central inlet. This hood line meets the base of the windshield about 6 inches above the side window sill.

Another cause of facial swelling? Marketing. “Full-size pickups are generally identical in profile,” Mr. Schirmer said. “The face of these trucks is where the action is; a Ford has to say Ford from head on, a Chevy must shout Chevy. Every pickup has become a rolling brand billboard and the billboards are big.”

You don’t have to be Steven Pinker to see that truck designers are leaning into the bully with these lantern-jawed bumpers and walls of chrome. Detroit’s blithe codifications of purposeful and powerful pickup design fail to describe the intimidation factor from the outside.

“A few brands, Ram and Ford, have taken to an overscale brand identity [and] applied it onto the grille,” said Kimberly Marte, associate professor of design at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. “The Chevy team did benchmarking of new models and followed the trend.”

It’s not clear how long pickup designs can keep getting their chrome on. In 2018 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a study examining the connection between SUV design and pedestrian fatalities. In a separate study released in June, IIHS found fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs striking pedestrians increased 81% from 2009 to 2016.

While IIHS studied SUVs and not pickups, “The key is the geometry of the front end, the high and flat shape,” said Becky Mueller, a senior research engineer for IIHS. “It’s like hitting a wall.”

XL-pickups’ high-rising hoods also create significant blind spots just ahead of the vehicle. I know because apparently I was in one of them. While truck makers like Ford offer automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems as standard equipment on most trims, and forward-view cameras as an option, such systems are not mandatory, as they would be in Europe.

NHTSA proposed that new pedestrian-safety tests for SUVs and trucks be included in the New Car Assessment Program in 2015. But as of this writing, the agency had not issued guidance on new standards. When asked, the industry trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation had no comment.

And what if the next administration should issue pickup-pedestrian safety rules? Could the extra tall hoods and bluff grilles, the sightlines, the scale, the very form language of the traditional American pickup ever be made pedestrian safe? “Of course not,” said Ms. Marte. “No way.”

So watch yourself at Costco.

Sales are UP!!

GM Passes Ford in Closely Watched Truck Race

GM in 2020 dethroned rival Ford Motor Co. in Detroit’s closely watched “truck wars,” securing the top slot in the lucrative market for large pickup trucks.

For the first time since 2015, GM outsold Ford in large pickup trucks, a category that generates the bulk of global profits for each auto maker.

U.S. sales of GM’s two pickup models—the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra—rose 3.9% last year, to 839,691 trucks, even as industrywide sales sank nearly 15% amid disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic. Ford’s F Series line, which includes its F-150 truck as well as the larger Super Duty, fell 12%, to 787,422, the company said Wednesday.

The rivalry among GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram brand—which combined dominate the U.S. market for large pickups—has become more intense as that category has grown as a share of the overall vehicle market. Large pickups accounted for 16.7% of overall sales last year, up from 12.5% in 2015.

The trend has bolstered the bottom lines of the Detroit auto makers, helping to fuel a prolonged period of prosperity that only recently was disrupted by the Covid-19 health crisis.

Ford said its F-Series sales were hurt last year by tight inventories due to pandemic-related factory shutdowns in the spring and efforts to overhaul plants to build a new version of its top-selling F-150 model.

Pickup-truck sales historically have accounted for around 70% of Ford’s global profit and about half for GM, Barclays estimated in 2019. Large SUVs such as the Chevy Suburban and Cadillac Escalade—which have the same mechanical guts as trucks—contribute nearly another quarter of GM’s bottom line, the bank estimated.

GM’s overall results also outpaced Ford’s last year. GM said its U.S. vehicle sales fell 11.8%, while Ford’s sales declined 15.8%. Overall, U.S. auto industry’s sales dropped 14.6%, to 14.6 million vehicles, according to data provided Wednesday by Motor Intelligence.

While the Covid-19 pandemic crimped overall demand, American buyers dug deeper into their pockets when purchasing new wheels—especially pickups. The average price paid for a light-duty full-size pickup truck rose 9% last year, to about $45,800, according to J.D. Power.

Ford’s F Series line has been the top-selling pickup truck in the U.S. for more than 40 years. GM’s trucks are sold under two brands, Chevy and GMC. GM’s pickup sales under those two brands have eclipsed total F Series sales in some years historically.

The pecking order in the pickup-truck battle often ebbs and flows with the freshness of the companies’ truck lineups.

Ford in recent weeks began rolling out its first redesigned F-150 in about six years. The new model includes a fold-flat, airplane-style front passenger seat and other creature comforts that Ford executives have said will appeal to buyers as people spend more time in their vehicles.

But factory work needed to prepare assembly lines to manufacture the new truck, at plants in Dearborn, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo., limited supplies of existing models in recent months, crimping sales, Ford executives have said.

Meanwhile, GM rolled out revamped versions of its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra in 2019. The company cleared more factory capacity to make larger, pricier versions and a broader selection of distinct models, such as an off-road-specific truck, moves that have boosted sales, executives have said.

The Detroit competitors have long sparred over bragging rights in pickup trucks.

In 2012, Ford threatened to sue after GM aired a Super Bowl commercial that suggested GM’s pickup trucks would survive an apocalypse while Ford’s wouldn’t. This fall, when GM touted a revamped heavy-duty pickup truck as having “best in class” towing capability, Ford publicly disputed the claim.

Fiat Chrysler’s Ram brand also has emerged as a more-formidable rival in the truck market.

Ram outsold the Chevy Silverado line in 2019, the first time for that to happen including when the company’s pickups were sold under the Dodge name. Silverado sales moved back ahead of Ram’s in 2020.

One thought on “Pickups are getting bigger”

  1. SSTI brief
    Vehicle hoods are now four inches taller and 22 percent more deadly for pedestrians
    “A new study from the University of Hawaii analyzes both crash data and physical vehicle measurements, rather than focusing on vehicle types, to determine a leading factor in pedestrian death rates: the front-end height of a vehicle”
    Justin Tyndall,
    The effect of front-end vehicle height on pedestrian death risk,
    Economics of Transportation,
    Volume 37,
    ISSN 2212-0122,
    Abstract: Pedestrian deaths in the US have risen in recent years. Concurrently, US vehicles have increased in size, which may pose a safety risk for pedestrians. In particular, the increased height of vehicle front-ends may present a danger for pedestrians in a crash, as the point of vehicle contact is more likely to occur at the pedestrian’s chest or head. I merge US crash data with a public data set on vehicle dimensions to test for the impact of vehicle height on the likelihood that a struck pedestrian dies. After controlling for crash characteristics, I estimate a 10 cm increase in the vehicle’s front-end height is associated with a 22% increase in fatality risk. I estimate that a cap on front-end vehicle heights of 1.25 m would reduce annual US pedestrian deaths by 509.
    Keywords: Transportation; Safety; Health; Traffic fatalities; Externalities

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