Digging into the great pickup truck debate of 2021

·3 min read
New Dodge Ram pickup trucks for sale are seen at an auto mall in Ottawa in April. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
New Dodge Ram pickup trucks for sale are seen at an auto mall in Ottawa in April. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Pickup trucks are a plague, at least according to Marcus Gee, whose column for the Globe and Mail criticizing Canada's appetite for trucks caused lovers and haters of the vehicle to pipe up.

Gee said the trucks are associated with a lot of issues — safety concerns, high fuel consumption and high manufacturing footprint — but staunch defenders of the pickup disagree.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called the column "ridiculous."

"Come to Saskatchewan where we use our pickup trucks to build and grow our province … and pull the odd car out of the snow bank," he said in a Tweet.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also defended the pickup truck, even changing his Twitter profile photo to feature himself driving one.

The column made many pickup drivers west of Toronto defensive — and that makes sense, said Max Fawcett, a columnist with the National Observer.

"Especially here in Alberta, it's kind of part of our identity," said Fawcett. "It reflects our identity in the sense that the trucks are freedom, trucks are independence, trucks are entrepreneurship."

"You buy a vehicle based on your values, your identity, your sense of who you are in the world. And for a lot of people, the pickup truck is really a big part of that."

Pickup trucks are popular

That apparent importance is reflected in the numbers.

Four of the five best-selling vehicles in Canada in 2020 were trucks, with the No. 1 spot taken by the Ford F-150. Twenty-eight thousand sold in Canada last year — which was a bad year because of COVID-19.

Trucks are ubiquitous, fun to drive and useful. But clearly not everyone loves them. A recent story from Passage even called for their sale to be banned entirely.

"I think we've kind of allowed them to take over in a way that is not great for the environment, not great for the safety of our fellow citizens," said Fawcett.

He said we shouldn't shame truck drivers who drive them because their work or lifestyle demands it. City dwellers who drive them for fun, though, might want to reevaluate their decision.

"As we hear these promises about climate change and net zero emissions, maybe we have to sort of take ownership of our own choices here as well," said Fawcett. "And I think that extends to the cars we drive."

Wes Siler, a regular contributor to Outside Magazine (and driver of a Ford Ranger), wrote an article called In Defense of the Truck. He said his lifestyle requires him to drive a truck, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"Trucks can be more responsible, much more environmentally responsible than some other stuff that we all kind of do in our lives," he said, citing air travel as a worse transgression.

"There are ways to think about your pickup truck use and your overall carbon footprint in a very cohesive way that can reduce how much emissions you're putting out."

Trucks changing the game?

The president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, Stephanie Wallcraft, said that like it or not, pickups are probably here to stay. But they might look different in the future.

"People are going to drive what they're going to drive. And the onus is more on the automakers to give people options that if you're living in the city, and you do want to have that pickup, then there's something for you on the market that is more fuel efficient," she said.

Ford's F-150 power-boost hybrids just hit the market. Smaller trucks, like the Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline and Ford Maverick, are rolling out as well. With those vehicles, you do lose a bit of towing capacity.

"If you're in the truck because you like it, not because you need that full capability, then that's an excellent option for still driving the truck but reducing your emissions overall," said Wallcraft.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Alberta at Noon.

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