Daily Archives: July 10, 2006

Fast Trucks?

Will they ever get the hint? Over the last 20 years the Detroit based automakers have repeatedly tried to build “sport trucks”. Anyone who really cares about cars and likes something with decent performance that is fun to drive, would never seriously consider a truck. Don’t get me wrong trucks have there place. There have been many times over the years when I have made good use of trucks for hauling loads of materials for a project, or top soil or mulch for the garden or some other large dirty object. But these occasions are not frequent enough to justify actually own a truck. The same goes for the majority of people. This of course has not stopped most of those people from buying trucks and SUVs. However, even if they do own a truck people generally at least want the option of being able to tow or haul stuff. They also like to sit up high so they at least have some possibility to see around all the other trucks. So basically people want trucks for two reasons, hauling stuff and a commanding presence on the road. They don’t buy them for their good looks or performance or handling. This is good because trucks generally posses none of these qualities in any appreciable amount.

Dodge Ram SRT-10Nonetheless Ford, GM and Chrysler have persisted in creating these sport trucks. They take a pickup truck or less frequently an SUV (which of course of derived from the pickups, but I digress as usual) platform, and then put the biggest most powerful engine that fits into it. Of course in order to try and “complete” the illusion of sport they have to make other changes. Since an unloaded pickup truck tends to have very little of its weight distributed over the rear axle (which is also the drive axle in these vehicles) Getting all the excess power to road requires really wide sticky high performance tires. To be able to get some semblance of handling (and prevent persistent rollovers) in a vehicle with as high a center of gravity as a truck and sticky tires, they have to shorten and stiffen the springs. This has the benefit of making the truck look a little sportier but has the cost of virtually eliminating the load hauling and towing capabilities of these trucks. It also means that they have a really stiff ride that is very uncomfortable. So let me summarize. You now have a large, heavy, unattractive vehicle that has had all of its utility stripped out of it. It gets lousy fuel economy, a rough ride and a high price. It tends to accelerate really fast in a straight line and resist changing direction or stopping (Newton’s first law of motion having not yet been repealed by the republicans in congress).

Needless to say the vast majority of car buyers have had no problem at all resisting the urge to buy one of these things. Every one of these models from the 1991 GMC Syclone through two generations of Ford F150 Lightnings, various other GM trucks, to the current Dodge Ram SRT-10 has had similar characteristics, and similar levels of sales success (or lack of it). The Ram SRT-10 is probably the fasted of all (featuring the 500hp engine from the Viper). However, for all the cost of development and certification they have only managed to sell about 2000 copies a year. So now Chrysler is going to discontinue the Ram SRT-10. With all the problems the Detroit based car makers have they need to forget about these trucks now and focus on building cars people actually want that can earn a profit. If they want to build something sporty, then they should build real sports cars like the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, the Mustang and other smaller sports machines. Rumor has it that Ford is working on another edition of the Lightning. I say that Ford, GM and Chrysler need to take a hint, forget sport trucks. They don’t work, and no one wants them.