It is perhaps well known that the Ford F-Series has been the best selling vehicle for the last 41 years in the US. In 2022, sales surpassed 640,000 trucks, meaning one was sold about every 49 seconds. Of course, much has been written about what this means for overall safety in our cities. According to Axios, the average 8 year old is completely out of view when in front of an F-150. And the death rate of car drivers colliding with a truck versus even an SUV, looks something like this:
Another important thing to point out is what has happened to the bed sizes on these trucks: they have continuously gotten smaller. Between 1961 and 1979, the bed portion occupied 64% of the length of the truck. But starting in 2021, the bed had gotten down to 37%. The reality, at least according to this consumer survey, is that the most frequent use case for these trucks is actually just “shopping/errands.” It is not hauling or towing.
So like all cars, and most things, probably the real reason these trucks are so popular is that they evoke a particular self-image. In this case, it is something about appearing “powerful” and “rugged.” Lots of people clearly want these adjectives. But even if powerful and rugged aren’t what you’re going after, it is almost certain that you have simply chosen different words and found different ways to communicate that self-image.
Car buyers (in general) buy way too much car for their needs, and pick-up buyers are no different. It’s really just a statement people make about themselves at this point, much like tesla or lambo buyers. One can tell easily with pick up trucks as they’re almost always pristine and free of the work truck blemishes, scratches and dents. If your bed ain’t clearly worn, it ain’t a work truck. And carrying the occasional sheet of plywood doesn’t count.
It’s also a reflection of how wealthy we have truly become, since many people don’t even flinch about spending 50K+ on an asset that will lose about 70-80% of its original value in its first 10 years, as well as a reflection of what our financial priorities are (thanks easy credit).
Adam Carolla has a hilarious take on the matter in his book: “Everything Reminds Me of Something”. He claims these have become stealthy luxury cars for people who don’t want to be seen in a Mercedes, but still want to show they can drop 100K+ on a car (for reference a Raptor R costs $150K – a mere 30K less than a fully optioned BMW 7 series).
If we were rational human beings we would all drive 10-year old corollas and the really wealthy would drive 5 year-old avalons with leather seats.
Exactly right! Add the word safety to rugged and powerful and you are at the core of what drives most truck purchases. There is a problem with the idea of safety though: a truck on truck collision will exacerbate each person’s injuries. This can be explained by high school physics: force equals mass x acceleration. Acceleration can be replaced with speed to make this formula more understandable. Also, mass can be substituted with weight. So, two Smart cars in a head on collision at 50 kmh will unleash much less force than two big trucks colliding at the same speed.
This simple formula is also lost on urban planners who institute preposterously low speed limits. They fail to understand that an F150 travelling at 30 kmh will injure a pedestrian far more than an Avalon travelling at the same speed. Follow the science? Not in city planning departments around the world. Sweden, home to Vision Zero saw an increase in pedestrian deaths after they instituted policies design to reduce pedestrian/ vehicular collisions. Bloomberg’s City Lab even wrote an article about this; the author couldn’t figure out what was going on.