This is the perfect time of year to go on a road trip. The weather is nice, and the national parks and campgrounds are waiting for visitors. And, even though I'm already planning an upcoming road trip, by sheer coincidence, I went on two 2000-plus-mile trips within a three-week period. Both were work related (but still great fun), and were in trucks on opposite ends of the vehicle spectrum.
On the first trip, a fellow editor and I traversed the American Southwest in the Ram Long-Hauler. It was our first chance to get behind the wheel of this massive concept truck. Based on a 5500-series Ram, the dualie Long-Hauler has a custom Mega Cab, a long bed, and the addition of a midship tank that makes the truck even longer. Yes, all that added length made it tough to park in some places. But spending so much time in a truck this size, with the ability to go for long distances without having to fill up, made a lot of sense. The truck can carry a lot of gear and people inside, was set up for fifth-wheel towing, and has plenty of creature comforts. You can read about the adventure starting on page 22.
According to Ram, this truck has the capacity to carry 170 gallons of fuel. While there is no official fuel economy number from the EPA, we estimate that you could get from California to Florida on a single fill-up. You could go cross-country while towing a high-lux trailer and not have to deal with fuel stations at all on the way, only having to stop for snacks or a restroom break. Some people may think the Long-Hauler is way too big, but I can see a market for this truck, especially for folks who regularly tow fifth-wheel trailers over great distances. A production version of it could serve a definite commercial purpose, as well as be a source of pride for those who travel on a grand scale.
The second trip started about a week later. Another co-worker and I flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to take delivery of Truck Trend's newest long-term pickup, a 2012 Nissan Frontier. After seeing the plant and visiting Nissan's U.S. corporate headquarters, we headed back west, passing through seven states in under four days.
Along the way, we stopped at various roadside attractions, many of which I'd never even heard of before that trip. (A hotel with giant cowboy boot and bull sculptures in the parking lot? A town known for donkeys? A soda shop with more than 500 varieties of soda?)
It was a lot easier to park and maneuver this truck compared with the Long-Hauler, and it got much better fuel economy than the big pickup did, but it didn't take long to figure out that the King Cab would hold only so much luggage and soda -- a problem we never even considered with the Long-Hauler. That story will be in our November/December 2012 issue.
Being on two consecutive road trips in such different pickups highlighted some truths about both. It showed that, sometimes, a specific truck doesn't just serve as a tool to fulfill your needs. Sometimes the truck helps define what your experiences will be, including where you park, what roads you take, and even how you plan ahead for fuel. Driving the Long-Hauler made that trip totally different from the one in the Frontier.
The trips also served as a reminder that there is a distinct reason why there are different sizes of trucks on the market. Not everyone will be happy with a half-ton, for example. Some want to do desert-running in a smaller pickup, or just want something that'll carry a dirt bike in back; others need to tow 20,000 pounds' worth of gear.
That's why there's room in the market for both of these trucks. Not everyone will see the need for a pickup as big as the Long-Hauler, but not everyone has to. This truck should go into production. Based on the attention the Long-Hauler got on the road and the feedback we heard, plenty of folks out there would gladly buy something like it. On the other hand, there's still demand for compact/midsize trucks, too. This must be the most neglected segment of the market, and some updates here could bring buyers back.
Whatever manufacturers do with their pickups in the future, I hope they continue to offer a variety of sizes and options. Truck buyers need as many choices as possible, because not everyone who owns a pickup is going to use it in the exact same way -- not even on something as universal as a road trip.