You can almost visualize the man in a tuxedo clutching a microphone and marking time for the carousel-like stage to spin around.
"And now, for your viewing pleasure, the new Jeep Gladiator; plus a blast from the near past, the restyled Ford Ranger," he exclaimed.
Well, there's no evidence any such master of ceremonies-type introduction took place, even if it would be right in style at a new-model car extravaganza. But there's no doubt the two vehicles were promoted at the L.A. Auto Show last month. And what's unusual is these weren't flashy sports cars, stunning ultra-luxury models or strangely shaped concept vehicles. The Ranger and Gladiator are smaller to mid-size pickups, described under the newly minted title of "lifestyle truck."
With the debut of Jeep's all-new Gladiator pickup truck at the Los Angeles — and the Ranger's anticipated return in the U.S. after seven years — "the lifestyle truck segment is booming," said Chase Disher, chief analyst for Autolist.com.
"Buoyed by low gas prices and strong enthusiasm for all forms of crossovers and SUVs, the compact and midsize truck market is surging — up 18 percent through October," the online site noted. Smaller pickups tend to allay themselves to uses other than work-only construction sites, so their growth is expected to keep up the pace, Autolist.com noted. "We’re about to enter a golden era for lifestyle trucks," Disher said. "Consumers have watched unrefined SUVs from the past evolve into very desirable crossovers today, and our study shows that they expect the same evolution in lifestyle trucks."
This fall, Autolist.com surveyed close to 1,500 car shoppers are found that 62 percent "expressed interest in buying a lifestyle truck."
The poll also sought brand recognition, finding the Toyota Tacoma a known name among 86 percent of shoppers. The Ford Ranger, even though it's been discontinued since 2011, placed second at 76 percent. The list also includes the Chevrolet Colorado, 73 percent; Nissan Frontier, 68 percent; Jeep Wrangler/Gladiator (a Wrangler spinoff), 64 percent; GMC Canyon, 53 percent; Honda Ridgeline, 52 percent; and Hyundai Santa Cruz concept (but reportedly near production), 26 percent.
Interest differed somewhat by gender, according to the Autolist.com questionnaire. "Men were drawn by the usefulness of the (truck) bed and didn’t care as much about reliability. Women, on the other hand, rated these two items equally as their number-one priority," the online site noted. As turnoffs, "poor fuel economy was top of mind for both genders. It was the number one reason for men (at 27 percent) and women (33 percent) they wouldn't buy a truck of this size."
Also one-third of coupe owners and 38 percent of sports car-muscle car owners said they would "definitely" consider buying a compact or midsize truck, according to the survey. Full-size truck owners were the least likely group at 19 percent.
Meanwhile, a magazine as urbane as Smithsonian gives props to trucks of all sizes as status symbols. "The pickup truck’s rise from its crude, makeshift origins to the almost luxury-item status it enjoys today amounts to a Horatio Alger tale with a technological twist, providing a striking allegory of cherished national legends of progress and upward mobility," writer James C. Cobb said in a July 3 article.
Annual sales of pickups topped 2 million by 1980 and had surged past 11 million in 2017, and the enormous and sustained profitability of its truck line has led Ford to limit its future sales of traditional cars in North America to the iconic Mustang and the yet to be unveiled Focus Active. With even the entry-level Dodge Ram 1500 stickering in the neighborhood of $65,000, many of today’s pampered pickups stand little chance of hauling cotton, hay, livestock, or much of anything else likely to scratch them.
Though pickups continue to have some practical applications in theory, in practice, a great number of them serve their owners primarily as “lifestyle vehicles” or some might even say “lifestyle statements.” Indeed, for a sizable contingent of Americans, the pickup truck has emerged as a means of establishing their ties to a distinctly blue-collar identity in the course of flaunting their bourgeois prosperity."
Paul A. Eisenstein writing for NBC News cited how luxury stalwart Mercedes-Benz's brought out the X-Class pickup in 2017, sold worldwide but not in the highly competitive U.S. market. He also pointed out how manufacturers are introducing premium-style trucks such as the all-new F-Series Super Duty Limited. "It may not boast quite the chic of a Mercedes, but it shares many of the features — including two-tone leather seats; premium stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel, armrests, and instrument panel; and hand-finished dark ash wood trim. It starts at $87,100 and nudges closer to $95,000 when fully loaded," he said.
According to industry figures, the average pickup truck sells for close to $47,000. Most aren't being used for work, Eisenstein wrote.
“Everyone wants these loaded-out trucks,” said Sandor Piszar, truck marketing manager at Chevrolet. “They offer just about everything you can get in a luxury car — and they can haul and tow” including boats, RVs and horse trailers.