Love it or hate it, the Hummer H2 is what we call an "impact" vehicle. The H2's influence on the general public is amazing; everyone knows what it is - they just don't know its off-road capabilities or its dismal fuel economy. Enthusiasts are a tougher sell. Most off-road enthusiasts are familiar with the H2 and have formed strong opinions regarding the beast. Some of these opinions are without merit, some are based on hearsay, and some are right on. Whatever. The point is, everyone knows the H2.
Another truck that continues to make a strong showing in the off-road market as well as with the general public is Ford's Super Duty. That a powerful, heavy-duty truck built by FoMoCo would find success with non-enthusiasts is no surprise; Ford has a loyal following, and the Super Duty is a worthy successor to the previous generation of F-250s and F-350s.
A possible trend-in-the-making is the emergence of yet another fullsize truck, the new Nissan Titan. I say a possible trend because there's no guarantee that the new Nissan will be a huge success, even though it's clearly designed and built for the American market, has a smooth, powerful V-8 engine, and is sized like a traditional American fullsize truck. Of course, Nissan's sales goals with the Titan may be conservative and may not include the term trend, but I'm sure the company will gladly sell as many Titans as the factory can roll out the door. The point is, just because a truck is solid, powerful, stylish, and a strong off-road performer, doesn't mean it will achieve the status of a trendsetter. Case in point: the Toyota Tundra.
Meanwhile, The Dodge Ram is doing almost exactly what the previous Dodge fullsize trucks have done: hover on the fringe of trendsetter. I really like the new Ram, especially when equipped with the new 5.7L Hemi V-8. Although the 1/2-ton Ram is IFS, the Ram Heavy Duty boasts a solid front drive axle, and in conversations with the faithful, that solid front axle is a major selling point of the Ram HD. Why? Just ask Super Duty owners and wannabe owners: The solid front axle is perfect for lifted applications; if you want to reliably run 38-, 40-, or 44-inch-diameter tires, the Ram and the Ford Super Duty are the easiest, most practical way to go.
Being a trendsetter isn't every manufacturer's cup of tea. Take the Tundra for example. It's my feeling that Toyota Motor Company - although seeking a home run with the Tundra - would rather maintain the marquee's stellar image for quality and advanced engineering than go for an all-out assault on sales, which may require a larger-scale Tundra or - gasp! - fitting the Tundra with an antiquated solid front axle. Odds of the preceding actually happening: 7.3 billion to 1.
So, for the time being, the trendsetters as I see it (it's my column) are the Hummer H2 and the Ford Super Duty, with the Ram Heavy Duty on deck. The Hummer will never be a high-volume sales leader, but it will continue to be seen in modified versions. And the Super Duty will continue to be the poster child for those who aspire to tall lifts or a truly stout truck. Ford will give the Super a new look for the '04 model year, but the underpinnings will remain mostly the same; why mess with a good thing?
Emerging trendsetters? The Ford F-150 will be a huge success, no doubt about it. The truck is handsome, powerful, and uses an all-new suspension that boasts massive lower control arms cast from aluminum. The F-150's cockpit resembles a German sports sedan, and items such as rack-and-pinion steering are now standard instead of a wild departure from the norm.
In the final analysis, what is a trendsetter and what is not a trendsetter may be a moot point. Some actually revel in owning, driving, and modifying a truck that's not seen on every trail or at every stop sign. So, if you're part of the anti-trend crowd, now you know exactly which trucks to avoid. For the rest, enjoy the popularity of a trendsetting truck as well as the camaraderie of those who share your passion for the H2 and the Super Duty.
Until next month...