Will More Pickup Sales Mean More Creativity?

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Jaguar Illustration by Theo Chin/Chris Doane Automtive

The good thing about pickup truck sales climbing back to peak numbers is that more off-brand vehicle makers are tempted to dip their toes into the big pool known as truck sales.

Elon Musk, the dynamic CEO of Tesla, has dropped occasional hints that Tesla will likely offer an electric pickup truck five years or so down the road. Sure, Musk knows there's plenty of money to be made in this growing segment, especially with average transaction prices, for certain brands, ready to break the $45,000 mark. And with top trim levels at Ford, GM and Ram hovering in the $60,000-plus range, there's no reason to relegate Tesla products to stripped-down fleet packages, whether there's a waiting buyer base or not. 

With the improving economy in certain sectors, major manufacturers and new arrivals are likely to enter the luxury pickup arena. Whether that means we'll see more badge engineering from familiar players like we did with the Lincoln (Blackwood and Mark LT) or Cadillac (Escalade EXT) or whether carmakers like Porsche, Infiniti or Jaguar will finally step in and offer some interesting new products remains to be seen. Certainly older consumers are more willing and able to spend more money on a unique new product like a Tesla pickup, especially if it's equipped with pricey features like adjustable suspensions, hybrid powertrains, and unique electronic bed and storage features.

We're hearing about more design exercises at the different original equipment studios, but nothing definite yet. Our guess is that if sales for the truck segments continue their steady growth, we'll see some exciting — and expensive — concept vehicles again. It wasn't that long ago that we saw things like the Dodge M80 and GMC Denali XT. With this news from Tesla, we could be headed for a huge injection of creativity here. Let's just hope it doesn't get too crazy.

Jaguar Concept C-X17

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Dodge M80 Concept

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GMC Denali XT

GMC Denali XT II

Comments

@The Real Lou
I think Amarok production will start in Hanover in Germany. I think the Rangers are made in Sth America, Thailand and Sth Africa.

The already make the Nissan Navara in LHD with the 3 litre V6 diesel, 7 spd in Spain. That would make a nice addition to your Frontier's as well.

But I would suspect the neighbours to the south will has influence on what you can and can't have.

Those stats are interesting. It shows the US has room for more brands and model of vehicles.

http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/News/Search-Results/First-Official-Pictures/VW-Amarok-Power-Pick-Up-2013-first-pictures-of-super-truck-concept/

@Lou, @Big Al,

Yes to increased competition!

However, there is still--even AFTER the 2008/2009 recession--a surplus of (manufacturing) capacity in auto manufacturing. All of the excitement in this field is happening in the Asian nations, and a few places in the US South. The US is still propping up the plants in the Rust Belt, but it is a fool's errand.

Companies that were born over one hundred years ago are today losing ground because of excessive taxes and regulation. Even the mining industry here is heavily regulated. What could be simpler than digging some kind of ore out of the ground and selling it?

The US places taxes on companies that make medical devices and do ground-breaking research in high value fields like medicine, but we subsidize the American unprofitable auto companies. Evidently, we're adopting the failed model that Britain embraced with Jaguar 30 yrs ago.

@papa jim--You have brought up some valid points. The only difference is that the US is a much bigger country and the impact is much greater. Government bailouts and loans are not sustainable long term. Giving tax credits for providing more jobs and bring industry back to the US is one thing, but just giving loans to industries that cannot survive on their own is different. Many companies that were created over a hundred years ago have not adapted themselves to a changing global environment. The management in most corporations are more interested in short term gains than long term sustainability. Yes unions, pension, and higher health care costs has contributed greatly to the woes of US business but the ability to adapt to change and long term planning is just as important.

Our US based auto industry is in a similar state to the British auto industry of the 70's and government ownership and support finally was not enough to sustain the British auto industry as it will not be enough to sustain the US auto industry. GM has to make even more drastic changes to continue to remain viable. Expanding product lines and trying to regain Number 1 status is not what GM should be doing. GM needs to put Quality and Service as No 1 to regain the trust of those customers it has lost. This is long term and will not show immediate profits, but in the long run it will reap rewards. It is possible that GM might not be sustainable on their own which would either lead to a take over by a competitor such as Ford or a foreign based manufacturer or a dissolution of the corporation itself. Hopefully this will not happen but I think the support for further Government loans is not there and the Government is in a budget cutting mode.

@Jeff S:
I agree with you, GM really does need to change their policies. The last 15 years or more of 'economize, economize, economize' has to go. This mind set is what has killed three of their brands and has really hurt the overall General Motors brand itself. They've made almost nothing but mistakes that really date as far back as the late '70s. At the same time, they had some great ideas, but due to economizing made subsequent mistakes destroying them.

BUT, GM isn't alone. Whether you talk cars or trucks, Ford and even Chrysler has made numerous mistakes and quality has been among their biggest mistakes. Ford has a street rep of making either great or pitiful models--depending on whether the buyer got lucky or unlucky. Their model decisions have not always been the best and their designs aren't always as well thought out as they should have been. Add to this their sometimes questionable assembly and Ford's reputation is as tainted as GM and Chrysler.

And Chrysler? In the '60s they built a reputation for cutting-edge technologies that failed--because they were put on the market before they were really ready. On the other hand, they also built a reputation for power and reliability to be envied as long as you stayed away from those technologies. The slant-six engine; the Magnum engines; building the reputation of the Hemi V8; all of these proved Chrysler understood quality where it counted. But those 'experimental' technologies tainted that reputation.
Chrysler's K-cars, while almost universally panned for their apparent 'cheapness', also proved surprising reliability--though their typical operational life barely broke 15 years due to simple metal fatigue in the bodywork--most of them condemned due to cracks in major structural areas. However, those K-cars did carry them through a bankruptcy and lasted up until their purchase by Daimler Benz.

Daimler Chrysler worked to change their image from 'cheap' to 'style'. Chrysler's models started looking good and again started coming out with cutting-edge technologies. Daimler really did reinvigorate Chrysler's sales. I thought--at the time--that they would also bring some of the Benz' legendary reliability into the brand as well. Now? That Benz' legacy is becoming questionable for Chrysler and seems even more curious when you consider that Daimler sold off Chrysler's almost legendary electronics division shortly before selling out of Chrysler itself.

Now, for all there are those here who pan Chrysler again, now due to its Italian owner, I'd like to note that Chrysler is going out of its way to address issues left behind by their former owner, though only if those issues are obvious quality issues. Part of the reason is, it seems, that they simply haven't had the supplies to perform a general recall or pre-emptive repair. On top of this, they're actively working to distance Chrysler from its former Benz platforms while still working to ensure the product that reaches the customer doesn't generate a bad image. Sure, the new Cherokee has been held back, but what if the AWD locking mechanism had gone to the customer with the apparent timing issues that caused that delay? Remember the old saying about first impressions? How many cars did first impressions kill over the last 50 years?

Quality? Every brand needs it. Not every brand offers it.

Older companies often are burdened with expensive benefit packages and subsequent legacy costs. There were some interesting comments made about this on a TTAC story where a bank study showed that under a new UNIFOR (union that replaced the CAW in Canada) contract, Canadian auto workers were more cost effective than USA UAW workers.
One fellow who had worked both in the USA and Canada pointed out that the USA actually was a more expensive place to do business. Taxes and health coverage was actually higher in the USA.
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/canadian-auto-workers-more-cost-effective-than-u-s-workers-study-says/#more-651242

I would love to see more small pickup trucks offered in NA. Currently we only have 2 mid-size pickups to choose from - the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. Of course we also have the Honda Ridgeline but I don't what it is - a wannabe full-size or a big mid-size. Although the Ridgeline is a nice truck, it's too expensive for what it is. Later this week we're supposed to see the reveal of the new 2015 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Hopefully they will turn out to be good trucks but they're still big - reported to be 90% the size of a full-size truck. My needs would be better filled by something like the 2008 Toyota A-BAT compact pickup with a small diesel or maybe a compact Tesla. I'm not holding my breath for either to actually make it to production.

@dr lou

Sorry, but the truck you want probably needs to be built in the driveway.

The old Rangers and S10s offer a fair amount of flexibility for someone who wants to replace the engine with a different motor. I don't know if you can find a diesel that fits those engine compartments, but there are fairly easy V8 upgrades that utilize the Windsor (ford) and the SBC (chevy).

If your interest in alternatives is more about Fuel Economy than torque, consider an upgrade to one of the base engines. Ford makes a turbo 2.0, as well as a 2.3 that they use in several FWD Mazda models, it seems reasonable to assume that 2.3 turbo's electronics would work with the Ford 2.3 since the basic differences have to do with the various castings for the block. Engine internals should not vary much.

A Ranger with the 2.3 DOHC turbo would offer fair economy and much more torque. The rest of the drivetrain is a question mark. My 2010 Ranger's auto 5 speed did not impress me. Not sure if the clutch and tranny Ford used for the stick shift Rangers is suitable for the added torque from the turbo upgrade.

Electric power is an intriguing next gen approach for pickups but the overall scene for electrics is a bit unreliable in terms of public recharge stations. The Chevy Volt's approach is my favorite because the gas engine can recharge the batteries when the vehicle is not able to be recharged conveniently.

Good luck with finding other alternatives.

@Vulpine--Good points and yes Ford and Chrysler have a history of letting quality slip as well. A dissatisfied customer usually is not a repeat customer. GM has some very competitive cars and crossovers and their quality has improved over what it was 5 years ago, but the old GM is starting to rear its head. Product duplication among the remaining product lines and chasing volume is not a sustainable business model. Quality is even more critical for GM than price.

@Lou BC--Those are valid points but adaptability to a changing market and quality are also important factors. Most US based corporations are run on short term profitablity with little long term planning. A cost cutting short cut can yield larger short term profits but it can have negative consequences in the long term if problems arise from an inferior product. Rush a new product to the market while cutting costs can be a recipe for future business failure.

Many of the articles about the Detroit Big 3 on TTAC cover the failures of the industry. Case in point is about the introduction of the 57 Chrysler Corp models and how they took shortcuts to introduce their cars instead of taking the time to iron out the flaws. The 57 Chrysler cars out sold the 57 Chevy which was a much better car but a plain and less glarious car. By 1958 Chryslers started to drop in sales because the 57's were rusting out and had many mechanical issues. My parents were one of those unfortunate customers that bought a new 57 Chrysler Windsor in the Fall of 1956. The Chrysler was a sharper more modern looking car than the 57 Chevy and it had dual headlights and push button drive, but it was not as well made and after buying a new 59 Plymouth wagon my parents started buying Chevrolets. Today everyone remembers the 57 Chevy and have forgotten the 57 Chryslers. The 57 Chevy stood the test of time. Even my father years later regretted not getting the 57 Chevy, but my mother liked the body style of the Chrysler and the push button drive.



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