NAIAS 2015 – Its all about the Trucks

With fuel prices in Detroit dropping below $2.00 a gallon for the first time since I bought a new car with more than 200 horsepower (actually since March 2009), its no surprise that it seems everyone brought a new truck of some sort to Detroit.  In alphabetical order, there was a new compact truck (Tacoma), a full sized truck (Titan), an off road monster (Raptor), an on-road monster (Rebel) and my choice for best truck in show, a Brat wannabe (Santa Cruz). So with the earworm “Its all about the Bass” unable to be cleared from my mind (and scroll to the end if you want to see our new lyrics), let’s go through the trucks at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.


Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept

Perhaps we liked this so much because we never saw it coming.  Or perhaps we liked this so much because we harbor an often unrequited love for all things unique and strange.  But the Santa Cruz Crossover Truck Concept is everything the Ridgeline should have been and we love it.  A utility hauler for people who don’t want to drive around in a pickup in the same way crossovers have become people haulers for people who don’t want to drive around in minivans.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck Concept  photo: AACS

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck Concept                                                                                                              photo: AACS

But it is perhaps the attention to detail that make this concept truck special.  From the intricate surfaces surrounding the exhaust exits to the center caps on the wheel, the Hyundai design team managed to make the Santa Cruz soft and inviting while at the same time tough and mechanical.  Even the chrome fender accent was beautifully surfaced and shaped and well-integrated – normally we dislike this sort of added on pizzaz.

Santa Cruz Exhaust   photo: Hyundai

Santa Cruz exhaust, non-functional but pretty                                                                                                   photo: Hyundai

Bla bla photo: AACS

Check out the detail on that center cap.  And the two-tone matte finish looks nice as well                          photo: AACS


Santa Cruz Headlamps look like they are ready to make a jump to hyperspace                                               photo: AACS

Beautiful chrome accept between the front fenders and the doors   photo: AACS

Beautiful chrome accent between the front fender and the door                                                                       photo: AACS

2016 Toyota Tacoma

From the truck we considered best in show, to the one we considered at the other end of the spectrum.  While certainly an improvement over the outgoing model, the truck doesn’t quite live up to the “badass” name that Bill Fay used to describe it at the reveal.


The new Toyota Tacoma                                                                 photo: AACS

Not that the new Tacoma is bad looking, just that the front end has so many surfaces it looks like it was designed in minecraft, and the rest of the truck is rather plain.  I guess if you are leading sales in the segment and you are getting a couple of new challengers (Colorado and Canyon), the smart thing to do is to double down.   The only details that are interesting are borrowed.  First, Audi should be quite upset about the stolen grille surround, even if it was installed upside down (Toyota calls it an “aggressive hex shape”).  And the headlamps looks eerily like the ones found on the Grand Cherokee, right down to the projector lamps and Elvis-like lip curl that makes room for a fake plastic grille.  Speaking of this fake grille, it appears to be de-rigueur these days as it also appears on the Escape and the Encore.  It is so bad that even the Truck Trends blog did a write-up on it 2 years ago.


2016 Toyota Tacoma ….. nothing new to see here                                                                                              photo: AACS


Audi should be more than a little upset with the theft of their grille surround                                                   photo: AACS


If Audi is upset about the grille, Jeep should be just as upset about the headlamps            photo : Toyota Press Room

2016 Toyota Tacoma interior     photo: AACS

2016 Toyota Tacoma interior                                                                                                                     photo: AACS


2017 Ford Raptor

Never know for its subtlety, the Raptor reveal did not disappoint (other than the fact we were in the nose bleed seats at Joe Louis).  With a front end that screams “I am going to eat you”, the Raptor is the testosterone-filled, ‘roid-induced banshee of the truck world, unfortunately not for another 18 months.

photo: AACS

A corral is recommended to keep the 2017 Ford Raptor from misbehaving                                           photo: AACS

With almost a foot of suspension travel afforded by the massive Fox shocks, off-road capability is a given.  But the move to a V6 may cause some purists a bit of heartache, although promises are that it will offer more HP and torque than the 411 HP 6.2L V8 beast in the current Raptor.  Although gaudy, we at The Supplier Blog love the “Ford” in the grille.  The “Ford” on the tail gate?  not so much.


The ‘Ford” in the grille looks totally in place                                                                                                photo: AACS


What you see?  Fighter jet shifter,  What you don’t see?  Paddles for the 10-speed automatic      photo: Ford Media


This view of the headlights demonstrate how  much wider the fenders are                                             photo: AACS


Does a 3.5l V-6 need a power bulge?                                                                                                            photo: Ford Media


Ram Rebel

The new Ram Rebel easily made the biggest impact at the show.  Of course, that was mainly due to the vertical to horizontal entry drop.  While the off-road attitude looks to be a little more subdued than the Raptor, the combination of a factory lift kit, monster Toyo tires and air suspension makes the Rebel a likely better daily commute.


Hard to tell if you like the way a vehicle looks when it’s presented vertically.  2016 Ram Rebel      photo: AACS

Under the twin snorkle sport hood is your choice of either a V6 or the venerable HEMI.  Up front is the first non-cross-hair grill on a Ram since I don’t remember when. By the way Ram design team – we miss it.  And the black bezel-ed bi-function projector headlamps look completely like cheap Auto Zone aftermarket units (no offense meant to Auto Zone). However, inside the seats are inserted with the Toyo tire tread pattern – our favorite little detail of the entire show.


The new Ram Rebel Grille – we could not find many people at the show who had positive things to say about it   photo: AACS


The seats are not made of tire treads, it just looks that way                                                           photo: AACS


Twin snorkle sport hood on the Ram Rebel                                                                                  photo: Ram Media


The Ram Rebel captured in its natural habitat                                                                                       photo: Ram Media


Nissan Titan

If Toyota knocked-off the design details of many competitors on their new Tacoma, there were those people at the show who thought Nissan knocked-off the entire truck.  Personally, I don’t see it, the new F150 looks nothing like this Titan.  Oh wait, they meant it looks like the old F250.  Yes, I can see it now, especially in the grille.  And dip in the beltline behind the side view mirrors.  And the headlamps…and…and…and


There is a lot of mass in front of the front wheels in the 2016 Nissan Titan                           photo: Ingo Rautenberg

In truth it must be difficult to discover new ground when designing a pickup truck, the most utilitarian of this country’s daily drivers.  Which makes us appreciate the ground-breaking 1994 Dodge Ram that much more.  This truck has attractive features and from some angles is very nice.  The profile, however, shows the nose-heavy proportions making it look like an early front-wheel-drive car with too much mass in front of the front wheel centerline.  Details are nice, including the fender vents, the wheels, and the huge lettering on the doors and tail gate.


Largest. Model. Designation. EVER                                                       photo: AACS


Bright wheels are a Pickup mainstay and the 2016 Nissan Titan is no different                                   photo: AACS


Many think it looks rather GM-esque: 2016 Nissan Titan interior                                                                photo: Ingo Rantenberg


We are definitely diesel fans at The Supplier Blog                                                            photo: AACS


That’s a real aluminum skidplate on the 2016 Nissan Titan                                                photo: AACS



We are always talking about grilles, so here is a nice respite as we chat a little about tail gates.  Which is your favorite?  We’d love to know.


2016 Toyota Tacoma                                                                            photo : AACS


2016 Nissan Titan X D                                                                 photo: AACS

2016 Nissan Titan

2016 Nissan Titan X D Platinum                                                        photo: Ingo Rautenberg


2016 Ram Rebel                                                                  photo: AACS


2017 Ford F150 Raptor                                                     photo: AACS


Hyundai HCD15 Santa Cruz Crossover Truck Concept                               photo: AACS


 All About the Trucks Lyrics

Because you know
It’s all about the Trucks
‘Bout the trucks, no sedans
It’s all about the Trucks
‘Bout the trucks, no sedans
It’s all about the Trucks
‘Bout the trucks, no sedans
It’s all about the Trucks
‘Bout the trucks

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, they ain’t no size two
But they can haul it, haul it
Like you need them to
‘Cause they got that room room that all the boys chase
To put all the right junk in all the right places

I see the bureaucracy workin’ the EPA
To get the mileage up
They want to find a way
To break you from it, from it, just give it up
‘Cause they know pickup trucks are perfect
From your work site to your home

Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about their size
She says, “Boys like a little more bed length to hold their toys.”
You know I won’t drive no two seat electric plug-in hybrid
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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