A black 2020 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition is shown parked near a restaurant after viewing used trucks for sale.

Why Are Pickup Trucks So Popular?

If you don’t pay much attention to the automotive industry, then you might think that the most popular vehicle sold in America is an SUV. The trend of SUVs replacing sedans and minivans in American driveways is a decades-long development that has received its fair share of media coverage. When you’re out on the highway, you’re likely to see plenty of compact crossovers, midsize SUVs, and even three-row full-size models on the road. However, the best-selling SUV in America in the year 2022 was only number four on the overall list of best-selling cars in the country for the year. Numbers one, two, and three are all pickup trucks.

In fact, pickup trucks take up five of the top ten slots on the list, so it’s no wonder that dealerships across the country always seem to have plenty of used trucks for sale. Sales in 2022 were not an outlier, by any stretch. The Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in America for over four decades now, and shows no sign of giving up that title any time soon.

The fact that pickup trucks are extremely popular among American drivers is well-established, but why? If we look at what pickup trucks are good at and what American drivers are looking for in a vehicle, we can figure out what makes the pickup truck such a hot commodity. Let’s dive in and explore five reasons why pickup trucks are so popular.

They’re Capable Workhorses

Pickup trucks don’t just have open cargo beds that can accommodate bulky items and lots of raw building materials. They also have impressive towing and hauling capabilities. They’re indispensable for people who work in fields like construction, landscaping, and delivery. Newer models have features that are designed with towing and hauling in mind, like built-in bed scales, camera angles that show you a close-up of your hitch or the contents of your trailer, and driver assistance features like blind zone warning that can account for the expanded blind zone you have while towing a large trailer.

Even if you don’t need a pickup for work, you might have the occasional home renovation project where a capable truck can come in handy. For those who only need their truck’s massive horsepower every now and then, there are plenty of other ways to make use of a truck. For instance, there’s the classic American tradition of the tailgate party, where the open bed of a pickup is an indispensable element.

A white 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning is shown towing a trailer near an ocean.

They’re Built to Last

Because pickup trucks are designed to handle hard work, they have to be exceptionally strong and well-constructed. This means that in addition to being able to handle farm work or construction duty with aplomb, they also tend to stay in good shape for miles and miles. In a world where planned obsolescence is becoming an annoyance that affects everything from our computers to our dishwashers, a product that actually has a long shelf life is particularly appealing. This also makes trucks a great choice for used vehicle buyers, who are looking for something that won’t break down after only a few years even though it already has plenty of miles on the odometer.

The Stats Keep Getting Better

Like iPhones, pickup trucks are constantly adding new features and striving to improve their performance to entice buyers to upgrade to the latest model. While a smartphone will focus on improved camera quality or 5G compatibility, a pickup truck will boast ever-higher towing and payload figures, which are closely linked to the engine’s maximum horsepower and torque figures. The top three best-sellers in America (Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Ram 1500) are constantly working to outdo each other and claim the title of “best in class” in any of these categories.

Even though pickup trucks can last for an incredibly long time when maintained properly, drivers may still be tempted to upgrade to the latest model. On top of more powerful engines, trucks also get the same new features as other vehicles, like driver-assistance tech for improved safety and better infotainment features for connectivity on the go. These constant improvements are a big incentive for drivers to get a new truck every few years, even if their old one is still working perfectly well.

A blue 2023 Chevy Silverado 1500 ZR2 is shown parked off-road.

They’re Great Off-Road

Pickup trucks are particularly well-suited to tackling rough off-road surfaces, whether that’s a poorly maintained gravel road or an OHV trail that winds its way up a mountainside. To understand why, we need to dig into the nature of how trucks are put together. On a structural level, the main difference between a truck and a car is that a car is built using unibody construction, which essentially means that components that make up the body are tightly joined together and the body fully supports the vehicle’s weight. Because they’re put together this way, unibody cars and crossovers (and the occasional outlier like the Honda Ridgeline pickup) provide a smooth ride on paved surfaces and tend to be more lightweight, which improves their fuel economy.

With body-on-frame construction, there’s an underlying frame that holds the vehicle’s suspension system and its wheels. The body, including the cab and the bed, is then mounted on top of this frame. The solid foundation of the frame is part of what allows trucks to be so good at towing and hauling. It’s also the key to their off-road prowess. The tough frame can take twisting forces and handle better on uneven surfaces than unibody vehicles. Since the suspension isn’t held in the body itself, you can raise a truck’s suspension significantly. This lets you add larger tires and gives you the ground clearance to let you roll right over obstacles like rocks and stray tree roots.

They’ve Changed With the Times

Automakers have taken notice of how people want to use their trucks and are doing a great job of catering to a wide range of demographics. Because people like to take their trucks off-road, every brand now seems to have its own version of an off-road beast with a lifted suspension and beefy shocks that comes loaded with a set of all-terrain wheels, from the F-150 Raptor to the Ram 1500 TRX to the Silverado ZR2. Others like to kick back at a tailgate party, so now they can get a truck with outlets in the bed, a full-width step they can use as a footrest, and maybe even a speaker system built right into the liftgate. If you want to use your expensive truck as a status symbol, you can get an interior that features heated and ventilated leather seats, a premium audio setup, and even real wood trim.

Pickups still largely run on gasoline or diesel, but the tide may be turning as electrification gains in popularity. Hybrid pickups offer not just better fuel economy, but often an extra boost of power and near-instant torque. The F-150’s hybrid model provides a unique benefit: an onboard system that can be used to power tools and other appliances on the go, making it even more useful on worksites. Now all-electric models are entering the scene, from startups like Rivian as well as traditional automakers. As pickup trucks continue to adapt to new trends and tastes, they may well continue to win popularity contests among American drivers for many years to come.