The U.S.’s Obsession With Full-Sized Pickups

Full-sized trucks are here to stay – even if they do get terrible gas mileage.
Trevor English

In today's world, you’d think that the average consumer would care a little bit more about fuel efficiency. After all, gas isn’t getting any cheaper, and with all the concerns about climate change and our environment, driving gas-guzzling vehicles isn’t as cool as it used to be.

However, trucks are still gaining ground in the U.S. and world markets. Despite all the growth of electric vehicles around the world, these full-sized pickups continue to rise in sales over the American automotive market.

In 2017, there were 2.8 million new pickup models sold in the U.S. Compared to 2016, that makes a 4.85% increase in sales—and they don’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Trucks in the U.S.

Currently, trucks account for 16.4% of all vehicle sales in the U.S., and SUVs have become the leading type of vehicle sold. The U.S. and world market are shifting heavily towards favoring large fuel-inefficient vehicles. Why does the U.S. consumer seem to be obsessed with large, low fuel-efficiency vehicles?

This question can be a little confusing to the non-pickup consumer or even a non-US consumer. Let’s take a look into all the factors that influence vehicle purchases in North America and examine why Trucks and SUVs are the next big thing.

We can all agree that a large subset of truck-buying consumers use these vehicles for essentially what they were built for: work and hauling. There’s little competition in this sector for fuel-efficient vehicles currently, although there are several companies working to create fully electric pickups. Consumers looking for a work truck are left with little alternatives, and frankly, they need to size and power to be effective.


All that said, this doesn’t account for anywhere close to the majority of truck sales in the U.S. The “luxury truck” is becoming more and more prevalent. People are buying trucks as family vehicles or just to look cool. Trucks have become a mainstream purchase.

What is a "truck," and what does it mean to people?

To understand this phenomenon, we have to look at exactly what a truck is. Trucks at the beginning of their conception were essentially only for heavy-duty work, but modern automakers have adapted this vision. Why not turn work trucks into everyday vehicles where you can also be comfy and look cool? The perfect vehicle for many.

Most new trucks can comfortably hold five people with more interior space than just about any other vehicle on the market. On the same plane, the average fuel economy of new pickups is actually higher than you might think coming in at 23 MPG. Still an abysmal number in where we should be with technology, but not terrible. That said, many truck models bottom out the charts at mid-teens average MPGs and can certainly be considered some of the worst gas-guzzlers on the road.

When you start to consider trucks that have low 20s for mpg, you’re met with a conundrum. Many full-sized SUVs get much worse gas mileage, so trucks appear to come out on top if you need the interior space and the MPG.

Still, though, there are cheaper ways to carry around 5 or 6 people, and with the average sale price of full-sized pickups nearing 50 thousand dollars, they’re major purchases that consumers are having to find ways to justify. The luxury truck segment has even pushed certainly model above 100 grand with dealer options.

The answer to how these expensive inefficient vehicles are being justified is twofold.

Justifying truck purchasing

This is a lot of money, but when you compare the purchase price to vehicles like the Chevy Suburban or the Tahoe, with similar cargo capacity, the cost is essentially the same. Put in comparison, full-sized trucks can carry about the same number of passengers comfortably, but trucks get better MPG and better hauling capacities. Not to mention you also get the added benefit of having a truck bed to use when you need it.

This is the first answer to how trucks are justified; they’re not that expensive. Coupling the base price with nearly every automotive manufacturer offering a 0% interest loan on their new truck models with good credit, and you’ve got yourself a decently cheap vehicle. Before I get slaughtered for saying 50k is cheap—it is. It’s more money than many people spend on a single purchase in their lifetime. However, when you factor in trucks leading the resale market and the fact that they’re the most dependable cars of any style, you’re left with a vehicle that you will lose you less money than much cheaper sedans or crossovers.

Not to mention, with debt financing, there’s a significant subset of consumers that believe they can afford vehicles this expensive and thus are willing to make the purchase.

While many other cities in the world may not be able to accommodate the massive stature of these trucks, U.S. infrastructure is spread out and built perfectly for these massively bloated vehicles.


That brings us to point two: status. If you can afford a massive luxury pickup or think you can, Americans are overwhelmingly choosing to buy them. To many around the world, it may seem odd to see a truck as a status symbol, but they are, at least in the Southern US.

Owning the latest greatest pickup makes you feel like the coolest guy or girl in the neighborhood in many areas across the country. Something about being able to tow a small house makes us Americans a little excited. To quote Jeremy Clarkson, Former Top Gear host, “Powerrrrrrr.”

The ultimate idea of trucks as status symbols is bolstered by the growth of the luxury pickup market. Ford sells a luxury F-450 Platinum Super Duty truck that can be optioned from the factory just shy of 100 grand… and people are buying it. Dealers often commonly tack on an extra 20K to truck prices by adding options like lift-kits and aftermarket accessories to trucks with the benefit of having them covered under warranty.

The F-series as a whole, just Ford Pickups, topped one million units sold in 2017. It is by far Ford's most profitable division. Nearly every automaker is expanding their truck lineup to incorporate several trim levels and options galore.

US consumers want big pickups because they’re decently practical, relatively affordable for what they can do, and they make them look cool. The only thing that might put a dent in the growth of pickups is a sustained increase in gas prices or a downturn in the economy. For now, the fuel-inefficient pickup is here to stay.

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