I, for one, am pretty excited that Elon Musk is bringing his 1980s sci-fi movie dreams to life.
There’s no doubt that the Tesla team has made a lasting impact on transportation design, for better or worse. Regardless of how the final NHSTA-approved Cybertruck ends up looking, it has sparked strong feelings. While transportation aficionados and designers alike have been waging a comment battle for the past few weeks as to the Cybertruck’s merits, I’ve had a different truck-related focus.
You see, I’m in the market for a new vehicle – something that appeals to my design sensibilities and is actually useful, not to mention practical. I’ve been looking at “compact” trucks – Rangers, Colorados, Tacomas, etc. And much to my dismay, I’ve found there is nothing compact about these behemoths! Somewhere between 1995 (my last compact truck) and today, trucks have ballooned to a size that no longer resonates with me.
In today’s vehicle market, trucks and SUVs continue to dominate. But if you look back to the 1970s and well into the 1980s, trucks were an afterthought for the Big Three. The Japanese manufacturers seized the opportunity to not only sell their own rad-looking little trucks into the US, but also to partner up with Ford, GM, and Chrysler to bring in re-branded versions of these imports. The result: Compact truck heaven for America.
I headed to bring-a-trailer.com to see if I could find any of these forgotten, vintage compact pickups for sale. Heck, buying a used truck would technically be better for the world anyway. Wow. I forgot how cool these were … and the farther back in years you go, the cooler they get! They also have gone up in price. These trucks retailed for a mere $5,000-$7,000 when new, and now some of these in good condition are $10K and up. This tells me that they are still highly valued and sought after, and it speaks to an obvious design opportunity – it’s time to bring these compact designs back.
Why? Let’s look at few examples of these sweet-looking trucks.
Look at this pre-Ranger compact Ford! The Ford Courier. Built by Mazda (it was the sister to the B1600), the Courier was as handsome as it was practical. A seven-foot-long bed and 39 highway mpg? Good luck finding that today. I also need to start dressing like the dude on the left.
Chevrolet, not to be outdone by Ford, introduced the Isuzu-based LUV pickup (Light Utility Vehicle) in 1972. They sold nearly half a million during its lifespan. Not too shabby – perhaps they could do it again?
And imagine having one of these beauties from Toyota in your garage. You could probably fit three of them in there nowadays! The paint and graphics alone have been a benchmark for awesome ever since. This … this is what I want to see in a 2020 version. No bigger though!
There was an amazing period in truck design where trucks were appropriately sized and there were plenty more than what I’ve listed here. Let’s face it – a modern min-truck design with a little more horsepower and some improved safety would be spectacular, not to mention useful without being overkill.
Which brings me the Cybertruck. What’s wrong with it? Just two things in my mind: It’s too damn big for this world, and too expensive. For that matter, so are the King Ranch F150 and Texas edition Chevy. It’s time to get small and get awesome. You like big trucks, no problem -- but for the rest of us, we’ve only been sold these over-stuffed sheet metal beasts for too long. And yes, I know, bigger is safer…if you’re the biggest.
There’s a huge opportunity here for mini-trucks, and there is plenty of design to reference from the past. I’m willing to bet some mini-truck projects are in progress already. History repeats itself and it’s the right time to bring them back – as long as automotive design teams have their fingers on the pulse of young buyers (and my old pulse, too). My prediction here as that it least one manufacturer will show their modern take on the compact trucks of yore during next year’s auto show circuit…or maybe the year after that. With any luck, I’ll see my other dream vehicle – an EV with a (simulated) manual transmission.
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