Do Auto Journalists Ignore Trucks?
This newsman thinks so.
Over the years, I have written columns lamenting the absence of Truck of the Year from the Canadian Car of the Year competition. Since 2007, there have only been two awards, for Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year. Why? It’s a mystery to me.
There are reasons, of course. Every automotive contest, including the North American Car of the Year and the World Car, insists that the entrants be significantly different than what came before them. To wit (in the case of the North American competition):
“The awards are intended to recognize the most outstanding new vehicles of the year. These vehicles are benchmarks in their segments based on factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.”
What this means is that pickups tend to remain pretty much the same year after year. In some cases, about the only difference from one model year to the next is that the controls on the radio might be round one year and square the next. The last truly “new” pickup came in 2015 when the Ford F-150 went to an aluminum body instead of one made of steel. It won the North American Truck of the Year in the U.S. that year and the Utility Vehicle award in Canada.
Be that as it may, a pickup truck — the F-150 — has been and continues to be the bestselling vehicle in North America. It is the No. 1-selling vehicle in Canada. It seems ludicrous to me that because it isn’t “new” every year that the F-150 isn’t eligible for — well — something. How can that be?
Mark Richardson, a former editor of Toronto Star Wheels and president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), says there aren’t enough new pickup trucks being built to justify an award of their own.
“We have 14 categories for Car — or Vehicle — of the Year,” he explained. “Our voting includes categories for best small car, best large premium car, best minivan and so-on. One of the categories is for best pickup truck, so we aren’t ignoring them. But there just isn’t the volume for a separate award, so we put them in against the SUVs for Utility Vehicle of the Year.
“That way, we have two good fights — for Car of the Year and UV of the Year, which is unlike the U.S. where they’ve gone to three — best car, best UV and best truck. We think our way is better.”
I have nothing but respect for Mark Richardson, but that means you could be putting a RAM 1500 up against a Mazda CX-5, which to my mind is incomprehensible. There is no comparison. I can put a refrigerator on the back of that RAM; the CX-5 is about the size of a refrigerator.
If I own a pickup truck, I can go to RONA and pick up a load of lumber. If I own a CX-5, I might be able to get a couple of 2X4s in the back. I have nothing against a CX-5. It’s a wonderful compact SUV. But it just doesn’t compare with a RAM, or a Chevy Silverado or an F-150.Although I have been railing against what I see as an injustice for years, I have not been able to change minds. But Howard J. Elmer, who agrees with me, actually went out and did something about it. In 2006, he held the first Canadian Truck King Challenge competition and he’s been going strong ever since.
Elmer, who wrote for Toronto Star Wheels at one time in his career (I mean, of all the automotive writers in Canada, who hasn’t written for Wheels?), said he’d always been fond of trucks and that he found himself moving in that direction of the market when it came to his reporting.
“In conversations with manufacturers in the early 2000s,” he told me in an interview, “I would comment that I found it fascinating that we would publish more stories on Lamborghinis in a year than we would on pickup trucks. Every single manufacturer would react the same way. ‘Yes, we sell so many trucks and yet nobody wants to write about them.’
“Which was not exactly true. But when I did see someone do a truck test, invariably they would talk about how nicely it rode when they went out to buy a bag of milk. That annoyed me and I decided to change that.
“A truck is something you haul stuff with and take stuff to the dump. Once time I borrowed an F-250 pickup from Ford and I noticed it didn’t have a hitch. I mean, this is a three-quarter-ton, diesel-powered pickup, and so I called Ford and told them that I wanted to tow something with it and the PR person said that I was the first person to even notice that there wasn’t a hitch because they didn’t put them on their press trucks.”
Elmer said it hit him that automotive journalists were not serving the truck-buying public well.
“You know, I looked at the numbers and half of all vehicle sales are trucks, so the interest must be there. And the people who buy trucks, in general, are more knowledgeable about their vehicle because they need to be. They want to know what it tows, what it will carry, how it will react to situations — the whole work aspect of it.
“So I talked to the main guys at GM, RAM, Ford and Toyota and I said, ‘If I was to ask you guys to provide me with some vehicles so I could do some head-to-head testing, and I will do payload and I will do towing and what do you think?’ They jumped all over it.”
Now in its 12th year, the Truck King Challenge has been pretty much a one-person show. Elmer has the testing done on his own property near Norval, Ont., he built the parking lot, the building, bought the concrete weights for payload, and so-on.
“I didn’t want it to be just the Howard Elmer show so I recruited all AJAC judges and they not only came and judged but they went home and wrote about it for their publications. Year-in and year-out, the Challenge inspires discussions on Forums on the internet and nobody has ever accused us of just being a show for the manufacturers.”
Elmer said that all of the automakers participate, although Ford did sit out one year. “You can’t do a head-to-head unless you have them all,” he said. “It becomes disingenuous for you to say there’s a winner when you don’t have them all. We took the position that we invited them but that they didn’t come. The public wasn’t buying it. Fences are mended now, so we’re good.
“But they’re having the same problem at the Texas Truck Rodeo. They lost GM two years ago and Ford sat out this year. Truck of the Year is the RAM …”
Elmer said this year the Truck King Challenge concentrated on the half ton, or 1500, series. We had six from each of the major brands — Chevrolet, GMC, Ford, RAM, Nissan, Toyota. GM was adamant that we look at those brands as being separate.
In the end, following testing that included hauling 1,000 pounds of payload, towing 7,000-pound trailers and being driven off-road as well as empty, the all-new GMC Sierra Denali was declared the winner of the 2019 Truck King Challenge.
And the Chevy Silverado 6.2-L V8 finished first in the Fuel Economy Challenge.
The fuel economy what?
“Most of the trucks, because of their weight category, are not required by the government to give fuel numbers so a lot of guys, particularly in the three-quarters, one-ton segment, are buying trucks with zero information on fuel. So we started doing our own. Then we started breaking out what our fuel consumption is when we do payload and fuel consumption when we’re towing.”
Elmer isn’t joking when he says he has job security, which is something most freelancers don’t have.
“There’s so much work that nobody else will do,” he said. “I got a call once from the purchasing agent for the province of Alberta. He said, ‘I have to buy 500 trucks and I want to pick your brain.’ I said happy to help you.
“When guys like that go looking for information other than anecdotal stuff from guys drinking coffee at the diner, there’s not a lot of stuff out there other than it rides really good when you go out to buy a bag of milk.
“As a result, most journalists ignore the segment. So I do the work that nobody else will do. As you said, a RAM pickup truck can lose out to a Mazda CX-5 because the Canadian Car of the Year doesn’t do trucks, just ‘Utility Vehicles.’ How stupid is that?
“Nobody cross shops a RAM and a CX-5. Why would they even be in the same category?”
Photos: Howard J Elmer- Canadian Truck King Challenge
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