Are Americans Approaching Pickup Truck Valhalla?

Vern Scott
10 min readFeb 4, 2023

For those of you who remember the Toyota/Datsun small 40 mpg pickup invasion in the 70s, you are probably wondering (like me) how pickups became the gas-guzzling behemoths we see today. Sure modern pickups can seat more people, tow larger loads, and climb the stairs of Tibetan Temples, but wouldn’t the modern uber-male prefer more economy and child-friendly features?

For now, the 2024 Toyota Tacoma Hybrid is a big secret…what mystical Daddy powers will it bestow upon us?

THE THREE BEARS OF PICKUPS: Apparently, pickup manufacturers (including the Japanese ones) learned about 25 years ago that “bigger was better”, since no American male wanted to drive a little wussie pickup without mudflaps for fear of being a weenie. Together with smog restrictions employed in the 70s and 80s, the “masculinization” of pickups conspired to drop mileage to about 16 mpg along with insane amounts of towing capacities (enough to tow a Boing 747 in one commercial). While all this was happening, many normal males were increasingly being asked to ferry the kids around (including infants), with little drop in repair and furniture moving requests. As MPG-guilt was increasing, pickup manufacturers came up with face-saving “in-between” pickups, that generally were big enough to look manly, yet ran on 4 cylinder Japanese engines (still only getting about 23 mpg). As you dropped your loved-one off at preschool, you could point to your large “tool-box” (probably now filled with diapers and expressed-mother’s milk, yet cleverly hidden under jumper-cables and extension chords) and fancy that you were the “Swiss Army Knife” daddy. The wifey was now driving a sleek 55 mpg hybrid,in which you always hit your head or had knees-to-chest syndrome. You figured your family carbon footprint averaged out to about 40 mpg, yet you became seduced by the new pickup comfort offered (touch-screens, Sirius, power everything, 4wd to power you out of those parking lot puddles) and it became your new man-cave. You ridiculed the ridiculously huge “Monster Trucks” with mud all over them as “Trump-loving Cornography” and “Cracker Penis-Envy”, yet wanted something presentable that could manage the now older kid’s surf boards, kayaks, (and lust), while managing a decent camping trip. What to do?

INGREDIENTS OF THE PERFECT PICKUP:

1) CUP HOLDERS AND USB OUTLETS: Let’s get this one out of the way. Any “perfect vehicle” discussion starts with these two items, since most people that enter your pickup are going to be carrying a drink that could spill and an Iphone-dependent teen with a low charge. My cup holders usually contain nasal spray and Kleenex, but that’s another matter. Four in front and two in back should do for the cups, One USB in front, one in back is enough, but you never know.

2) MPG-THE PROPOSED TOYOTA TACOMA HYBRID MIGHT GET 38 MPG: With much fanfare, Ford came out with an all-electric F150, and there are also Rivians and even Hummers that are all-electric. However, these are still enormous (and pricey) vehicles (about $55k and up), with limited range (especially when towing a load). The word on the street is that “along with less dependence on oil, American drivers need to get over their love of extremely large vehicles” and I couldn’t agree more. It didn’t help that the president of Toyota (the recently retired Akio Toyoda) questioned whether large trucks SHOULD be electrified (he was an advocate of the more energy dense hydrogen fuel cells). Meanwhile, Ford came out with the Maverick hybrid pickup, which gets 41.5 mpg but comes with a pathetic towing capacity of 2,000 lbs (4,000 lbs with optional tow package). I’m supposing that a reasonable towing capacity starts at about 5,000 lbs, or it sort of defeats the purpose of having a pickup (anyone who has ever towed 4H animals to the fair, a disabled vehicle, or trailer with a load to the dumps will know what I’m talking about…that feeling where if you tap on your brakes to avoid a streaking cat or dog, the whole assembly will jack-knife leaving you looking like an idiot). We were all looking to Toyota (the all-knowing instigators of the Prius, and formerly the midsize and drive-forever Tacoma, which grew to be as big as the Tundra with less reliability) to provide a reasonable alternative, and at last it appears to be on its way. I gave up waiting for Mr. Toyoda’s hydrogen fuel cell pickup (which will be priced at about $50k and up, with few hydrogen fueling stations). The 2024 Toyota Tacoma hybrid is rumored to be getting 38 mpg with a 6,000 lb towing capacity and starting at about $31k (perhaps $5k more if a plug-in version is offered…this is tempting as it qualifies for some of the electric car rebates, has a 30 mile daily range, and would practically be an electric pickup for me, except on long trips). Note here that often we DO take my pickup on long trips, as it has the superior headroom and luggage capacity. All this with a touch screen approaching the size of your 50” Samsung and “CarPlay” (notice how much that sounds like “Foreplay”? All very enticing to the average dutiful yet still manly-man). (Ferris,2022),(Frangoul,2022)

The appropriately named Akio Toyoda (get it? “Toy” and “Yoda”?), until recently head of Toyota, was not a big fan of electrifying pickup trucks.

3) KING CAB OR CLUB CAB? 5’ or 6’ BED?: The king cab has those tiny back seats with two seat belts, enough for little kids or an adult on a short trip. The club cab is like a regular back seat, but it adds at least a foot to the overall length (which limits your parking capability, important when navigating the urban jungle). Similarly, there is the 5’ or 6’ bed question…I remember when old-school pickups had 8’ beds and NO back seat! Now that was a pickup, but you can’t really find those anymore. Meanwhile, the Ranger is almost all cab with a teeny bed (4’?) which also defeats the purpose of a pickup. My boys have grown up (advantage club cab) but they’re never around, or may soon be dropping off my grandkids (advantage king cab). Thinking back on owning all permutations of the above, I’m thinking I’ve gotta have a 6’ bed and a club cab, which is 1’ longer than my current 5’/club cab, which barely fits in my garage. Ok, well if I get racks (which I’ve never had before, I used to fit lumber through the tiny rear window), I suppose I could stand a 5’ bed again.

4) TONNEAU COVERS, RACKS, CAMPERS, TOOLBOXES: I had a tonneau cover fitted onto my current pickup for about $1200 a few years ago, what a great invention! It turns your pickup bed into a kind of large lockable trunk, and folds up if you have a large load. As said, I’ve never owned a rack, even though I used to do some major construction things (I usually had lumber etc delivered). Yesterday, I took a trip to “Campway” pickup accessories, where I saddled up to the bar to see some Daddy pickup porn (pickup accessories). I just learned that one can have a tonneau AND a rack, which greatly expands one’s options. Campway mostly sells campers, but I decided a long time ago that I spend more time not needing one, and they are expensive and heavy (though there are campers WITH racks, which are tempting). But wait! They now make tents that fit over racks (and even extend over an open tailgate) so that I could get myself and my son’s 6’ frames into even a 5’ bed on said camping trip! They also have a pivoting toolbox that fits over the wheel well, so as to not interfere with bed capacity (not much anyway). These tool boxes are relatively small (enough to fit a socket set, jumpers/ext. chords, and a few battery powered tools), so I guess if you were a professional contractor you’d need something much bigger (not my problem).

Pickup tents come in all sizes and arrays, can fit over racks, while making Dad look really cool. What’s next? An inflatable jump-house attachment?

5) ACCESSORIES, 5 SPEED STICK, ONBOARD GENERATOR: Word is that ’24 Tacomas will finally phase-out the manual transmission, which has been threatened for years (part of a feminist conspiracy?). It used to be, in our well-behaving male family, the 5-speed stick got a little better mileage, was cheaper, and a great test for the woman in your life (the marriable ones liked the stick and the failures shredded your gears into metal shavings while shrieking “I’m not learning how to use this stupid thing! This is your fault! I HATE YOU!!”). I guess we’ll have to find a new marital testing ground, like the reliable “10 mile hiking trip with 30 lb pack weight” (like in “Parent Trap”). There are many Toyota accessories offered at purchase, including chrome-laden running boards, additional chrome trim, and chrome everything else, but the Campways guy and I agreed that this was the pricey, snobby, sucker stuff (like the $17 glass of wine or HBO Elite) that you didn’t really need (that the Campway guy, who looked uncannily like Brandon Crawford, SS of the SF Giants..a guise designed to sell more pickup accessories?), would rather sell me. The Ford F150 commercial with the guy using the onboard 110V generator to build a remote cabin (he may have even been the Unibomber?) had many guys drooling. Of course I own two little portable generators, but oh the bragging rights! There are things like electric winches too (for when your pickup conks out in the middle of the Congo River, like in “The Gods Must Be Crazy”), but yes all these things are mostly exotic, useless, (and expensive) Daddy-porn.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?:

1) THE FUTURE “GREENING”OF PICKUP TRUCKS: Since about half the vehicles sold in America are pickup trucks, it is important that they start “greening” themselves. Up to now, rednecks have considered themselves exempt, as though they’re part of the military or something. The problem is getting enough horsepower to tow and haul things, while getting good milage (they don’t work together very well).

a) Mr. Toyoda is probably right, in that current batteries are not energy dense enough to be practical for hauling heavy loads. He is also probably right in saying that hydrogen fuel cells are a better solution (more energy dense, although currently expensive, or not available in small pickups). Toyota hopes to bring down the price of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by economy of scale within the next ten years.

b) A 40 mpg hybrid mid-sized pickup (the one I’m hoping Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger offers in 2024) is a great transitional green vehicle, with acceptable towing capacity for smaller loads. With things like racks and bed extenders, these vehicles can be smaller and lighter, while still serving the purpose of the modern handy-yet-child-loving male. A plug-in version almost brings this vehicle on environmental par with an electric.

c) What to do with enormous trucks which get 12 mpg with enough towing capacity to haul a mountain? Tax the snot out of gasoline (about $2.00 per gallon should do) and most males will rethink whether to drive something that screams “Nuke Iran While Getting the Hell Out of my Way!” or to rent one for the day.

d) For some reason, you don’t see many pickups in Europe (Utility vans and large trucks, yes). Maybe that’s because their fuel is so expensive and when you try to entice their culture into spinning doughnuts in the off road mud or attending a street show they say “Quoi?”.

Will the pickup of the future look like this, except completely green/electric, with 20 self-cleaning cup-holders, a diaper-changing station, and instant 3D printing of any tool you want?

2) THE FUTURE “GREENING” OF THE AMERICAN MALE: All told, its been a really good run for the American male, who has been allowed all these years to indulge in sports fantasies while watching beer and pickup commercials that indulge his mid-life crisis, but now “pop!” has to turn off the set and do dishes and wipe babies’ asses. Hopefully, the all-encompassing pickup of the future will have built-in diaper changing stations and sink faucets with high powered spray, trash mashers, onboard air-compressors to power air-wrenches, little pop-up Coleman stoves (electric of course), NERF-bumpers and 1000 MPG fusion-powered engines. Tool arrays will do blurry spins to the appropriate tool-set, like in “The Matrix”, with Bluetooth everything anticipating the need to auto-brush your teeth or auto-vacuum the carpets, while a NASA-inspired porta-potty will address yours and the kids needs in a traffic-jam, eventually expelling a little biodegradable brick. Holography will make this pickup look larger than it really is to everyone else, and it will have the capability of turning into a submarine for “off-boating”.

ENJOY THESE OTHER CLEAN-AUTO ARTICLES BY VERN SCOTT:

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Vern Scott

Scott lives in the SF Bay Area and writes confidently about Engineering, History, Politics, and Health