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

Ram Rebel TRX concept
Ram Rebel TRX concept - Contributed

The $100,000 pickup truck

TORONTO — 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 would-be 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 cross-shopped 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 higher-priced 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.

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