No longer just hum­ble work­horses, pick­ups have fast be­come lux­ury goods

The Labradorian - - Editorial - BY MATT BUBBERS WHEELS

The $100,000 pickup is com­ing soon to a dealership near you. In fact, it may al­ready be there. If you so de­sire, you can al­ready spend Mercedes S-Class money on a half-ton truck with 22-inch chrome wheels and an earth-shak­ing stereo.

The price of a Ford Rap­tor, a ruggedi­zed F-150 for wouldbe Baja 1000 rac­ers, can climb north of $90,000 if you tick all the op­tions. A loaded GMC Sierra 1500 can reach $86,000, and the all-new model com­ing in 2019 will likely raise that fig­ure.

The sky seems to be the limit when it comes to prices of lux­ury pick­ups. They’re not ex­actly a new phe­nom­e­non, but the trend has re­cently found new mo­men­tum push­ing prices to new heights.

“In the last two years we’ve ac­tu­ally seen an ac­cel­er­a­tion in that trend. All the growth in the (Cana­dian) truck mar­ket in the last 24 months has been at price points above $55,000,” said Mark Al­ger, na­tional mar­ket­ing man­ager for GMC trucks.

Roughly 20 per cent of the truck mar­ket is in that premium bracket now. “If you go back 10 years ago, it might have been 11 or 12 per cent,” Al­ger said.

Pick­ups trucks have long been a rugged al­ter­na­tive to mini­vans or SUVs, but now cus­tomers are con­sid­er­ing them along­side cars from Cadil­lac, Lexus or Mercedes.

“If you look at the data, some of these trucks are crossshopped with high-end lux­ury ve­hi­cles; it’s un­be­liev­able,” said Mike Szymkiewicz, se­nior man­ager of prod­uct and vol­ume plan­ning for Fiat-Chrysler Canada. “How high can you push that? I don’t know, but we haven’t got­ten there yet.”

“I buy a lot of trucks each year,” said Martin Barkey, CEO of MBRP, an af­ter­mar­ket man­u­fac­turer of per­for­mance ex­hausts based in Huntsville, On­tario. “It wasn’t that long ago a well-equipped du­ally diesel was in the high $50,000 range; it seemed to jump into the $80,000 range pretty quickly.”

The av­er­age trans­ac­tion price for a full-size truck in Canada is around $38,000. The trans­ac­tion price for GMC’s lux­u­ri­ous Denali pick­ups are close to dou­ble that, and ac­count for one-fifth of sales vol­ume, said Al­ger. GMC re­cently added a new top trim, the Denali Ul­ti­mate.

“We’re see­ing growth there, at the high-end of the high-end,” he added.

We’re see­ing a sim­i­lar trend in the lux­ury SUV space where Bent­ley, Lam­borgh­ini and Rolls-Royce are jump­ing into the mar­ket while the likes of Range Rover, BMW, Mercedes and Audi are rolling out high­er­priced models to com­pete.

Auto mak­ers are fur­ther re­fin­ing their trucks to com­pete in the lux­ury seg­ment.

Fam­ily-friendly fea­tures like prodi­gious in­te­rior stor­age, spa­cious crew cabs, mo­tor­ized step-up run­ning boards, mul­ti­ple USB plugs and rear-seat en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems are all read­ily avail­able.

Ride qual­ity — typ­i­cally hard and harsh on pickup trucks — is get­ting bet­ter although they’re still not as plush as a good cross­over SUV. Op­tional in­de­pen­dent air-sus­pen­sion on the Ram 1500, for ex­am­ple, helps. It al­lows driv­ers to lower the truck to make it eas­ier for kids to climb in and out.

Ram claims the all-new 2019 model will be the qui­etest ever. A cylin­dri­cal de­vice called an “ac­tive tuned mass mod­ule” is meant to can­cel out vi­bra­tion caused by fuel-sav­ing au­to­matic en­gine stop/start sys­tem.

Nis­san’s Ti­tan has quilted two-tone leather in Plat­inum Re­serve trim, which the com­pany de­scribes as an “ex­ec­u­tive suite,” as well it should be with a start­ing price of nearly $70,000.

Trucks lag be­hind when it comes to tech­nol­ogy and ad­vanced safety fea­tures, but they’re fast catch­ing up. The Toy­ota Tun­dra and Ford F-150 al­ready have lane-keep­ing as­sist and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing. All-new 2019 models from Ram, Chevro­let and GMC will soon add sim­i­lar fea­tures, while huge touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems, 360-cam­eras and head-up dis­plays are com­ing soon too.

Trucks’ fuel econ­omy, although still not as good as cars, is im­prov­ing. Light­weight ma­te­ri­als are play­ing an im­por­tant role.

The next-gen­er­a­tion Sierra and Sil­ver­ado will have an op­tional “Car­bonPro” pickup box made of car­bon-fi­bre re­in­forced plas­tic. The 2019 Ram will have a 48V mild-hy­brid sys­tem. Mean­while, Ford is in­tro­duc­ing a turbo-diesel V-6 on the F-150 which it es­ti­mates will re­turn around 30 MPG dur­ing high­way driv­ing, or 7.8 L/100 km.

“The (fuel-econ­omy) gap has shrunk so I don’t think that’s a key re­jec­tion rea­son any­more,” said Mike Szymkiewicz of FCA. “Fuel econ­omy has gone down the list. It’s not a rea­son not to buy any­more and . . . it’s go­ing to get bet­ter.”

Mark Al­ger said the im­por­tance of com­fort and style is in­creas­ing, where trunks were once only about power and util­ity. “You’re buy­ing an $80,000 truck to stand out a lit­tle bit,” he said. “There’s a cer­tain amount of bling and sta­tus that those ve­hi­cles have and we’re happy to help (cus­tomers) with their needs.”

It’s lit­tle won­der; in this rar­efied price bracket, lux­ury trucks gen­er­ate hefty prof­its for deal­ers and auto mak­ers.

What’s driv­ing this trend and push­ing prices up? If you ask the prod­uct plan­ners, they’ll say it’s these new high-tech, fam­ily-friendly trucks that are more com­fort­able and lux­u­ri­ous than ever.

Surely there are other forces at work here too though. Read­ily avail­able credit makes leas­ing and fi­nanc­ing lux­ury ve­hi­cles eas­ier than ever. The ubiq­uity of big, lux­u­ri­ous SUVs means jump­ing into a pickup truck is no longer such an alien ex­pe­ri­ence for many driv­ers.

To most by­standers, even an $80,000 truck has a whiff of work­ing-class style, which is very much on-trend just like beards and plaid shirts and Levi jeans. Bay Street cow­boys re­joice!

With its two truck lines — Chevy Sil­ver­ado and GMC Sierra — Chevro­let is go­ing after two dis­tinct groups of buy­ers. “Chevy goes a lit­tle bit more for that West­ern vibe and GMC is a lit­tle premium, a lit­tle more down­town,” said Don­nelly Bax­ter, mar­ket­ing seg­ment man­ager for Chevro­let trucks.

Cur­rently, if you want to spend $100,000 be­fore tax on a half-ton truck, it means go­ing to af­ter­mar­ket sup­pli­ers like MBRP or get­ting dealer-in­stalled ex­tras.

“In our show­rooms you’ll be able to go to the GM dealer and take that $85,000 truck and put $15,000 of wheels, ex­haust, au­dio en­hance­ments and get your $100,000 ticket, and some guys will do that, ab­so­lutely,” said GMC’s Mark Al­ger.

It seems in­evitable that half-ton trucks will soon carry MSRPs above the $100,000 mark.

“If you tick the box for ev­ery­thing, you can prob­a­bly get over $90,000 in a Ram Laramie Lim­ited or Longhorn with the diesel,” said FCA’s Mike Szymkiewicz. “I don’t think you’d crack six fig­ures, but that’s an op­por­tu­nity.”

Martin Barkey of MBRP reg­u­larly sees cus­tomers who spend $140,000 on cus­tom­ized pick­ups trucks. He thinks it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore we see trucks with sticker prices north of $100,000.

“You’re see­ing a cat­e­gory of buyer who just wants that lat­est and great­est,” he said.

It’s a race to the top, ex­cept no­body knows how high the ceil­ing could be.

GM PHOTO

The 2019 GMC Sierra Denali.

FCA PHOTO

The Ram Rebel TRX con­cept.

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