2017 Special Edition Pickups

2017 Special Edition Pickups

Special Edition TrucksBy Howard J Elmer

Have you noticed how many pickup truck special editions are on the market this year? Chevy alone is pushing five – more if you count the HD-specific ones. Even full-size newcomer Nissan is offering dealer-available equipment that will “personalize” your new Titan – as if the Titan wasn’t new enough. Toyota is also doing it, adding to its already popular TRD Pro model.  Ram is also on board, spring boarding off the Rebel and regular Ram with multiple grille treatments, hood designs, wheel treatments and wild colours. Ford already offers the most multi-level trim packages for its F-150 and SuperDuty; yet for the 2018 model year they are already pushing four special editions that can be mated to the trim of your choosing. As its advertising says “it’s about standing out in the pack.”

Of course, special editions have been around almost as long as automobiles themselves – it’s an obvious way to drive sales by offering something unique over and above the regular. But, the real hook has always been the limited time each is available. So while this sales tactic is not new, the content that appears in these special editions today has changed, particularly in trucks.

In the past, special editions were most often about the mechanicals – engines, powertrains and suspensions being the key components that were offered in these packages. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, buyers scoffed at the “all show, no go” versions of what are today iconic models. Despite the paint and decals, the reality of the muscle car era was that for every 440 cubic-inch V8, Hurst shifter-equipped ground pounder ordered, thousands of anaemic V6 models were built. The performance is what made those few cars stand out, and that’s what those owners wanted and paid for. Mind you, it’s the rarity of those special models that make them so collectible today. That was the mindset at the time. Colour and perhaps some decals were the only other real personalized choices available – if you wanted to stand out, you went with performance upgrades.

Special Edition TrucksSpecial edition pickups were no exception. Regardless of who built them (Dodge Warlock, Chevy Silverado SS, Ford Lightning), special edition trucks were all meant to go.

Today, though, the emphasis has shifted to the outward appearance of the truck and the special interior appointments. The current crop of special editions reflects this popularity. Like a peacock fanning its tail for all to see, these trucks are all about showing off. Doing so makes sure they are seen as unique – which is what they are (from a looks standpoint) and that’s what their owners want them to be. Being fast is much less of a priority these days. Does that mean buyers have matured? Or are the choices of the “selfie-generation” spilling into their truck-buying tastes. While I wonder about that one, it is obvious to me that manufacturers have discovered that the limited time each special edition is available is what’s really making them saleable. Some series are even numbered to clearly spell out the temporary nature of the release.

Jim Morrison, head of the Ram brand, also sees the current trend. “Everybody wants something unique and specialized,” says Morrison, “so what we are offering is one step up from just adding accessories – we’re extending the custom touches to trim and paint, things the factory can do more affordably than customers can.”

Frankly, from a style-only point of view, Ford was probably one of the first manufacturers to spot this trend and capitalize on it by partnering with Harley Davidson starting in 2000. I remember when these trucks came out and I was surprised by the fact that these special editions offered no mechanical upgrades whatsoever. At the time, Ford’s SVT (specials vehicles team) was building some great stuff – including the soon-to-be-famous and fast SVT Lightning pickup. In conversations with those same SVT engineers, it came out that Harley was behind the lack of performance upgrades. They recognized back then that it was the “look” that would sell, and they were right. But past the Harley-Davidson tie-in, it seems they tapped into the personalization trend, which is now mainstream.

As for where the special edition ideas come from, Morrison says, firstly, his whole design team is made up of “truck guys” so they draw inspiration from their own likes. Past that, they take feedback from dealers and spend time scanning readers’ blog posts and customer comments on various Ram enthusiast websites. Seems like it’s worthwhile making your wants known on the internet.

Perhaps this custom trend will, in the long run, spawn some very collectible pickups. Today, everyone wants to be unique, so why should truck buyers be different?

Categories: Features, Trucks Plus