A pickup truck is a light-duty truck having an enclosed cab and an open cargo area with low sides and tailgate. Once a work tool with few creature comforts, in the 1950s, consumers began purchasing pickups for lifestyle reasons, and by the 1990s, less than 15% of owners reported use in work as the pickup truck's primary purpose. Today in North America, the pickup is mostly used like a passenger car and accounts for about 18% of total vehicles sold in the US.
The term pickup is of unknown origin. It was used by Studebaker in 1913 and by the 1930s, "pick-up" (hyphenated) had become the standard term. In Australia and New Zealand, "ute", short for utility vehicle, is used for both pickups and coupé utilities. In South Africa, people of all language groups use the term bakkie, a diminutive of bak, Afrikaans for bowl/container, due to the cargo area's similarities with a bowl and container.
In the early days of automobile manufacturing, vehicles were sold as a chassis only, and third parties added bodies on top. In 1913, the Galion Allsteel Body Company, an early developer of the pickup and dump truck, built and installed hauling boxes on slightly modified Ford Model T chassis, and from 1917 on the Model TT. Seeking part of this market share, Dodge introduced a 3/4-ton pickup with cab and body constructed entirely of wood in 1924. In 1925, Ford followed up with a Model T-based, steel-bodied, half-ton with an adjustable tailgate and heavy-duty rear springs. Billed as the "Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body", it sold for US$281; 34,000 were built. In 1928, it was replaced by the Model A which had a closed-cab, safety-glass windshield, roll-up side windows and three-speed transmission. In 1931, Chevrolet produced its first factory-assembled pickup. Ford Australia produced the first Australian "ute" in 1932. During the Second World War, the United States government halted the production of privately owned pickup trucks.
In the 1950s, consumers began purchasing pickups for lifestyle rather than utilitarian reasons. Car-like, smooth-sided, fenderless trucks were introduced, such as the Chevrolet Fleetside, the Chevrolet El Camino, the Dodge Sweptline, and in 1957, Ford's purpose-built Styleside. Pickups began to feature comfort items such as power options and air conditioning. Trucks became more passenger oriented with the introduction of crew cabs in the Toyota Stout and the Hino Briska, was introduced in 1962. Dodge followed with a crew cab in 1963, Ford in 1965, and General Motors in 1973.
In the United States, from 1963 onwards, the protectionist "chicken tax" has distorted the light-truck market in favor of American manufacturers, beginning with basically stopping the import of the Volkswagen Type 2, and effectively "squeezed smaller Asian truck companies out of the American pickup market." Since then, for over half a century, Detroit has successfully lobbied US government to uphold the light-truck tariff, thereby reducing pressure on Detroit to introduce vehicles that polluted less and that offered increased fuel economy.
The US government's 1973 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) policy sets higher fuel-economy requirements for cars than pickups. CAFE led to the replacement of the station wagon by the minivan, the latter being in the truck category, which allowed it compliance with less-strict emissions standards. Eventually, this same idea led to the promotion of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Pickups, unhindered by the emissions controls regulations on cars, began to replace muscle cars as the performance vehicle of choice. The Dodge Warlock appeared in Dodge's "adult toys" line, along with the Macho Power Wagon and Street Van. The gas guzzler tax, which taxed fuel-inefficient cars while exempting pickup trucks, further distorted the market in favor of pickups.
In the 1980s, the compact Mazda B-series, Isuzu Faster, and Mitsubishi Forte appeared. Subsequently, American manufacturers built their own compact pickups for the domestic market: the Ford Ranger, and the Chevrolet S-10. Minivans make inroads into the pickups' market share. In the 1990s, pickups' market share was further eroded by the popularity of SUVs.
While the Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States since 1982, the Ford F-150, or indeed any full-sized pickup truck, is a rare sight in Europe, where high fuel prices and very narrow city roads make it difficult to use on a daily basis. In America, pickups are favored by a cultural attachment to the style, low fuel prices, and taxes and regulations that distort the market in favor of domestically built trucks. As of 2016, the IRS offers tax breaks for "any vehicle equipped with a cargo area ... of at least six feet in interior length that is not readily accessible from the passenger compartment".
In Europe, pickups represent less than 1% of light vehicles sold, the most popular being the Ford Ranger with 27,300 units sold in 2015. Other models include the Renault Alaskan (a rebadged Nissan Navara), and the Toyota Hilux.
Full-sized pickups and SUVs are an important source of revenue for GM, Ford, and FCA's Ram, accounting for more than two-thirds of their global pretax earnings, though the vehicles make up just 16% of North American vehicle production. The vehicles have a high profit margin and a high price, with 40% of Ford F-150s selling for US$40,000 or more.
The NOx law prevents pickups from being imported to Japan, but the Japanese Domestic Market Mitsubishi Triton is available. In China (where it is known by the English loanword as 皮卡车 pí kǎ chē) the Great Wall Wingle is manufactured domestically and exported to Australia. In Thailand pickups manufactured for local sale and export include the Isuzu D-Max and the Mitsubishi Triton. In Latin and South America, the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, VW Amarok, Dodge Ram, Chevrolet S-10, Chevrolet D-20, and Chevrolet Montana are sold.
In South Africa, pickups account for about 17% of the passenger and light commercial vehicle sales, mostly the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, and Isuzu KB (Isuzu D-Max). The Volkswagen Amarok and Nissan Navara are also sold.
In the US and Canada, nearly all new pickups are sold with automatic transmissions. The Cummins diesel-equipped Ram is the only full-sized pickup truck available with a manual transmission. It has an ultra-low first-gear ratio for heavy hauling. The Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma are available with a clutch; Fords are automatic only.
A regular cab has a single row of seats and a single set of doors, one on each side. Extended or super cab pickups add an extra space behind the main seat, sometimes including small seats. The first extended cab truck in the U.S. was called the Club Cab and was introduced by Chrysler in 1973 on Dodge pickup trucks. A crew cab, or double cab, seats five or six and has two full-sized, front-hinged doors on both sides. The first crew cab truck in the U.S. was made by International Harvester in 1957, and was later followed by Dodge in 1963, Ford in 1965, and Chevrolet in 1973.
Cab-over or cab forward designs have the cab sitting above the front axle. An early cab-forward, drop-sided pickup was the Volkswagen Transporter, introduced in 1952. This configuration is more common among European and Japanese manufacturers than in North America, since the style allows a longer cargo area for the same overall length. The design was more popular in North America in the 1950s and '60s, examples including the Chevrolet Corvair Rampside and Loadside, Dodge A-100 and A-108, Ford Econoline, and Jeep FC-150 & FC-170.
The cargo bed can vary in size according to whether the vehicle is optimized for cargo utility or passenger comfort. Most have fixed side walls and a hinged tailgate. Cargo beds are normally found in two styles: step-side or fleet-side. A step-side bed has fenders which extend on the outside of the cargo area. A fleet-side bed has wheel-wells inside the bed. The first fleet-sided truck was the 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier. Early trucks had wood-plank beds, which were replaced by steel by the 1960s. Some European-style trucks use a drop-sided bed with a flat tray with hinged panels rising up on the sides and the rear.
A pickup with four rear wheels instead of two is called a "dually", which is able to carry much more weight over the rear axle and is often used for carrying heavy loads, campers, or supporting fifth-wheel trailers.
Vehicles similar to the pickup include:
In the American domestic market, pickups are general categorized as:
The terms half-ton and three-quarter-ton are remnants from a time when the number referred to the maximum cargo capacity by weight.
While in the United States and Canada, most pickups are used primarily for passenger transport, agriculture, and commercial uses, pickups are also used in law enforcement, the military, fire services, and for pickup truck racing, a form of auto racing using modified versions of pickups mostly on oval tracks. Race pickup trucks are mechanically similar to coupé-shaped stock cars.
A monster truck is a vehicle styled after pickup trucks, but with extremely large wheels and suspension. They are used for competition and popular sports entertainment, and in some cases they are featured alongside motocross races, mud bogging, tractor pulls and car-eating robots.
Equipping pickup trucks with camper shells provides a small living space for camping. Slide-in truck campers, though, give a pickup truck the amenities of a small motorhome, but still allow the operator the option of removal and independent use of the vehicle.
Some diesel-engined pickups are modified to produce more diesel exhaust, a process described as rolling coal. Changes are designed to produce visibly polluting sooty emissions and include the intentional removal of the particulate filter, as well as installing smoke switches and smoke stacks. Modifications may cost from $2,000 to $5,000.
Modified pickups can be used as improvised, unarmoured combat vehicles called technicals.