Even though the price of gas has crashed through the $3-a-gallon barrier and looks hellbent on nailing $4 a gallon, and the price of everything from plasma TVs to tuna sushi is going up, America still loves a pickup truck.
Although down 12 percent on 2005, pickup truck sales seemed to be running at close to 2006 levels. That still means some 230,000 Americans drove a brand-new pickup off the dealer's lot every month last year. To put it another way, pickup trucks alone accounted for one in every five new vehicles sold across the U.S. That's big business, especially when you consider the entire pickup market is composed of fewer than 20 nameplates, compared with well over 200 for the cars and SUVs that make up the other two thirds.
There might be fewer nameplates-and therefore larger volumes per nameplate over which to amortize costs for everything from tooling to marketing-but the pickup-truck game is still a complex business. The ability to mix and match engines, transmissions, drivetrains, suspensions and axles, as well as cab and bed configurations, plus interior trim levels makes for nightmarish manufacturing and sales scenarios, as Toyota discovered with its all-new, full-size Tundra.
The launch of the Tundra was a seismic event for the industry; with dimensions and performance that finally matched its Detroit rivals combined with Toyota's manufacturing and marketing muscle, here was a Japanese truck that finally looked a serious rival to F-150, Silverado, and Ram. Our other contenders this year-Chevy Silverado HD, GMC Sierra HD, and Ford F-250, F-350 and F-450-are all heavy-duty models, a niche once the sole preserve of business users, but fast becoming sought after by recreational users for their ability to tow large horse and RV trailers-or simply because they look bigger, tougher, more trucklike than anything on the road.
We tested two versions of each contender, with different engines, transmissions, and body configurations in order to better evaluate the breadth of capability of each nameplate. It was a small field, but, in overall terms, a quality one. And the result wasn't as clear-cut as we thought it would be.
THE 2008 MOTOR TREND TRUCK OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:
Chevrolet Silverado HD
GMC Sierra HD
THE JUDGING CRITERIA:
1) Superiority. We look at engineering excellence, advancement in design, utilization of resources, and safety. Vehicle concept and execution are important, as are use or materials, packaging, dynamics, styling, and fuel consumption.
2) Significance. How well the vehicle does the job its maker intended it to do? And how does it impact or change its particular market segment, influence consumer perceptions, and transform product development trends?
3) Value. How does each truck compare against its direct rivals? A vehicle with a low sticker price might not be as good a value as a more expensive vehicle that delivers outstanding performance, quality, and functionality.
Click back to TruckTrend.com on Dec. 18 to find out who will take home the calipers. Which truck do you think has what it takes to be Motor Trend's 2008 Truck of the Year?
Photo by Brian Vance