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Our love of trucks

Why drive a truck when you can drive a car?  I’ve often pondered that query, especially since a pickup, the Ford F150, is America’s top selling vehicle.  In fact, it’s been the best seller of all vehicles for over 30 years.

Given the available vehicle variety — sports cars, luxury vehicles, economy cars, SUVs and crossovers — pickups must have a mighty strong appeal to outsell them all.

I’ve suspected that the many of these owners don’t regularly require the cargo space, towing capacity, or off-road capability of their chosen pickup.  So, the allure must be something more intangible, like simply being perceived as “cool.”

A couple of professors at the University of Michigan, Brandon Shoettle, and Michael Sivak have pondered the phenomenon too.  They sought answers through their study, “Consumer preferences and motivations for owning light trucks versus passenger cars.”

A summary of their findings revealed that the main usage for light trucks tended to be for general transportation and commuting.  Respondents cited the primary reason for owning a light truck was the overall increase in utility over passenger cars; the primary reason for not owning a light truck and only owning passenger cars related to cost savings relative to light trucks.  Light truck owners and passenger car owners both listed small light trucks as the vehicle type they were most likely to consider over their current vehicle.  Additionally, more than one third of light truck owners said they would not consider another type or class other than their current vehicle.

So, they like the utility, even though the preponderance of use is simply for transportation.  Also, those who have trucks intend to keep them, and many car owners intend to get trucks.  Their appeal and incredible sales success must be based on some powerful set of intangible factors.

I’ve heard many owners say that they like being seated higher amid traffic, and that seems to have merit.  However, I’ve also heard complaints about the added difficulty of entering and exiting taller vehicles.  Is it really added visibility drivers seek, or is the taller position a subliminal quest for superiority?   A Simpson’s television episode once aired in which Marge became a maniacal tyrant in her high-riding SUV.

When fuel prices fluctuate, sales ratios of trucks versus cars are altered slightly, but never enough to displace the F150 from the top spot.  While alternative vehicles with high fuel economy figures have flourished over the last couple decades, the fleet fuel economy for light trucks has changed little, increasing from 19.6 in 1991 to 22.0 in 2015.  Nevertheless, consumers have continued to favor light trucks, seemingly indifferent to economy ratings and fuel costs.

Again, utility is cited as a reason for buying trucks even though that utility is seldom utilized.  And, it is actually a perceived lack of utility of non-truck options that many consumers cite as a reason for not buying some form of passenger vehicle.

Motivation to own a truck is not necessarily a “macho” thing, since ownership is balanced with 52% of light truck owners being male and 48% female.  Nor is it strictly a young or old thing, since dividing owners’ age categories into four segments, 18-29, 30-44, 45-59 and 60 or older, reveals that each group represents about 25% of total light truck ownership.

There’s nearly universal appeal, but we may never know the actual causal factors of why.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.

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