Stephanie McRae leaned into the bed of her husband’s 1997 Ford F-150 to slide in an enormous pellet smoker for her son on Father’s Day, as grandson Kameron Runge watched.
“My husband is a delivery driver who works nights. He’s sleeping right now,” she explained in a Lowe’s parking lot in Fort Gratiot Township, Michigan. It was her second trip to Lowe’s, having discovered the box wouldn’t fit in her 2014 Chevy Equinox earlier that day.
Ah, yes. Another pickup truck saves the day. This is why America loves its pickup trucks. So while it might be no surprise that people love their trucks, Ford Motor Co. commissioned an online Great American Truck Survey of 2,000 owners to find out just how much people love their trucks. Ford has dominated pickup sales since the beginning of time. Still, the Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram trucks have been in aggressive pursuit.
Now the so-called truck wars, which drive the biggest profits for Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, are showing no sign of slowing. The F-Series dominates. It is commonly known as the Golden Goose for Ford, because the multibillion-dollar truck franchise within Ford North America generates revenue comparable to that at Facebook, Nike and Coca-Cola.
For millions of truck owners, the vehicles are as important to life as air and water.
“Pickup owners are the most loyal in the business,” he said. “You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers, ‘I’d rather push a Ford than drive a Chevy.’ It’s hopeless to try and get them to switch brands. To them that’s treason.”
Auto historian Matt Anderson said history reflects this passion.
“As early as the mid-1920s, sociologists discovered that many working Americans were willing to cut back on food and clothing to make car payments,” said Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum. “Our trucks and cars are our freedom. The recent COVID lockdowns only reinforced the idea that Americans consider mobility a birthright.”
Tattoos and feelings
Meanwhile, nearly one in five tattooed truck drivers have a tattoo of their truck, or related to their truck. And 25% of truck owners surveyed have named their truck.
Bradley Johnson, 71, a retired electrician, owns a 1994 Chevy pickup, a 2006 Chevy 2500 heavy duty and a 2017 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali. He and his wife, Jane, of Port Huron, Mich., use their trucks to pull a large camper and travel the country. They, too, were found at Lowe’s after an unsuccessful search for a camper fridge.
Most folks have heard that you may not need to own a truck but you do need to know someone who does.
Tim Gabriel, 37, a production manager, has helped friends move from house to house, hauled trailers and, picked up store purchases for people whose cars are too small.
“This is my first pickup. I’ve wanted one for a long time,” Gabriel said, loading a clothes dryer into his 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn with a V-8 engine. “Every time you park it, you look back at it because you love it so much.”
He added, “It makes trips to grandpa’s and grandma’s a lot easier to haul stuff with kids. That’s how I sold the wife on the idea. I was in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.”
Fathers and sons
This new survey is a slice of American life, said Mark LaNeve, vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service at Ford.
“I remember growing up, my dad was a steelworker back in Pittsburgh, and he had a friend who had a pickup,” LaNeve said. “He was, once a month, helping my dad do something. My dad always had a vegetable garden. They’d go down to my grandfather’s to borrow a rototiller, a big machine to chop the dirt, and he’d load the pickup truck with that heavy rototiller.”
‘Go where you want’
The truck study was conducted in March by Penn Schoen Berland, a global research and analytics firm.
An estimated 38% of the respondents happened to own Ford pickups, which has dominated the market over the years. But the study also included a fair share of Chevy, Jeep and Toyota products.
These days, trucks command almost an “awe,” said Karl Brauer, former executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “That’s because they represent independent thought, independent living, capability, not necessarily having to follow all the rules. You have a truck, you don’t have to go where the pavement is. You can go where you want.”
Trucks have evolved to become part of the American psyche, he said. “That’s why domestic automakers have made so much money on them.”
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