Let's be honest. Most of us treat trucks as tools. Of course they're fun to drive, and there is a genuinely enjoyable truck lifestyle, especially when on vacation, or for errand and hauling duty on weekends. Whatever we're using it for, a truck is a practical tool that gets us from Point A to Point B, often with something in tow or loaded in the bed. But when you take a tool, one that previously didn't rely on high-tech advancements, and make a quick transition to cutting-edge technology, growing pains can occur.
Of course, there are different ways you can define technology. There's tech such as Computational Fluid Dynamics that optimizes airflow around the truck to improve fuel economy; dynos and testing facilities that simulate millions of miles of driving; the use of computer programs to design suspension pieces; even prototype components created on 3-D printers. But in this case, I'm talking about the use of electronics. Technology is making its way into trucks in two major areas: the powertrain, helping ensure that pickups adhere to ever-tighter fuel economy and emissions regulations without sacrificing power and capability, and the cabin, where buyers are interested in more creature comforts.
I understand the reasons why electronics are used in both cases. When it comes to engine management, and when combined with use of lighter-weight materials, there may be no better way to make the most efficient use of fuel, whether a vehicle is towing or is unloaded. It can also be the best way to make sure the transmission works its hardest to get the most power -- and efficiency -- from the engine. Much of the electronic magic that has been applied to modern truck engines has been for the better, despite a few hiccups along the way. But, hey, sensors are a major contributor to keeping diesels on the road, despite tough CAFE standards. Use of diesel exhaust fluid relies on proper measurements of the amounts of DEF needed. It would be hard to do that without sensors. I doubt an engine as complex as the EcoBoost could be treated like a truck engine -- asked to deal with the same loads as a more traditional V-8- - without the appropriate technology. So technology can work for truck guys, even the most die-hard iron-block-loving, keep-a-truck-until-the-wheels-fall-off enthusiasts. And so far, the new high-tech drivetrains are working just fine. If they're working just as well seven years from now, that will remove any doubts I have.
Then there's the other part of the technology equation: the goodies in the cab. It seems everything from the gauges and the driver information center within the gauge cluster to the climate control system, and of course the stereo and navigation systems, uses the same technology we see in new cars. Remember when truck interiors were little more than metal shells, and ads would extol features like AM radio? Now, you can use your truck to charge your cellphone, make hands-free phone calls, listen to satellite radio or your own music on an MP3 player, and find the best way to reach your destination while avoiding traffic. Sure, you can still carry a Thomas Guide in the center console, but it isn't as essential as it used to be.
The downside to all these electronics in a truck is that we have a level of expectation, as truck people, that what's in the truck will be as tough as the truck itself