Luxury car owners trade up for US pickups as Ford, GM dominate market

McCombs said that demand for high-line trucks has grown with each new and more expensive model Ford has added to the F-Series line-up. And even with the arrival of the Super Duty Limited last year, she said, the carmaker may not have hit the limits. Every month, at least one buyer adds enough aftermarket options to drive off with a pickup priced at more than $100,000.

“There are just some people who want to have the best truck on the block,” said McCombs.

It’s not just the availability of more features, said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with IHS Markit, but the addition of distinctly different model variants “that speak to different types of buyer.” Not far behind the limited is the beastly Raptor model that features off-road tires and shocks and the most powerful engine available in the F-150 line-up.

Even if you ignore unique-to-truck features like those off-road tires, spray-in bedliners and cargo tie-downs, a luxury shopper will find virtually all the features of a high-line sedan now offered on top-end pickups. These include such things as:

  • High-end audio systems, like the package on the Ram 1500 Limited;
  • Premium leather, wood and metal finishes, like those on the new-for-2019 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate;
  • The Ram 1500 Longhorn opts for leather skin-patterned leather and what looks like a branded logo on the real wood glove box cover;
  • Active cruise control, blind spot detection and automatic emergency braking, available on high-end models from all three Detroit carmakers;
  • Heated and cooled front seats and even the heated rear seats on the Fort F-250 Limited;
  • A near Tesla-sized touchscreen display on top-line Ram models;
  • In-car WiFi, USB ports, a multi-zone climate system and even two 120-volt outlets on the 2019 Silverado High Country.

Luxury trucks are still a relatively new phenomenon. Ford teased the concept in 2000 with a well-equipped special edition dubbed the F-150 Harley-Davidson, adding the King Ranch for the 2003 model-year and the Platinum in 2015.

Whether the segment will continue to grow is far from certain – though one can ask that of the entire pickup market. Demand for trucks has traditionally been sensitive to the ups-and-downs of the economy, though that’s especially true for vehicles used for work.

Fuel costs could also play a factor, though analysts like IHS Markit’s Brinley note that automakers have been taking steps to reduce the potential impact of another price surge – and to meet the tough new fuel economy standards ahead.

V-6s, especially turbocharged EcoBoost versions, now account for roughly two-thirds of F-150 demand and the automaker is bringing out a diesel and working on a hybrid model. The 2019 Ram 1500 is available with a so-called “mile hybrid,” known as the eTorque system. It not only improves mileage but also improves launch performance and provides power for a variable suspension system.

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