Car and Truck Interiors

        For background, I just read an article on Pickup Trucks dot Com about the RAM 1500 garnering a top ten rating for its interior.
Some of you who have met me in the different comment boards of sites like this know that I am an Opinionated Driver. In this case, I want to discuss a few factors about these interiors.

I’ve been driving since late ’69. My first car was a 1963 Chevy Nova 4-door that was considered a compact car of the day. Of course, the interior of that and many other cars of its age consisted of a steel dashboard usually painted the same color as the body, though if the interior was of a different color, so might the dash be. The point is that it was steel–with no padding. Today that would be considered a serious safety hazard simply because it is so hard. On the other hand, with the advent of seat belts and the fact that it was so far away (a full arm’s reach for most) you simply didn’t hit that dash except perhaps in the worst collisions.

Problem was, people didn’t wear their seat belts too often. Of course, this was also around the time of Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” essay which effectively destroyed a number of popular car models and started an expensive rush to make cars safer. Just two years later, that steel dash had foam and vinyl padding making it look more bulky and more susceptible to cracking–which reduced the car’s trade-in value more readily. The point is that making cars ‘safer’ started making them look ‘cheap’ inside. This was as true of pickup trucks as it was of cars, but didn’t matter as much because pickups were considered ‘work’ vehicles.

Fifty years have gone by since then and padded surfaces have gone a long ways towards holding up in the extremes of heat and UV radiation in car interiors. Cars have become much more comfortable; so have trucks. Whereas pickup trucks were originally strictly work-type vehicles for hauling heavy, dirty, outsized loads that simply couldn’t be carried in the trunk of a car, they are now more car-like than ever, their interiors as plush and luxurious as even the highest-priced cars. In fact, the specific article I’m relating to quotes: If Bentley made a pickup truck, its cabin would look like this.” High praise indeed for the interior of a pickup truck.

Yet, for all that comfort and style, I feel we have lost a lot of that which made cars the most comfortable and trucks more useful; space. Where the dashboard used to be an arm’s reach away, now it is possible to accidentally hit a control by just moving your hand off the steering wheel. The real front legroom and knee-room is missing–acceptible for an average-sized person but feeling like your gut is crammed into the steering wheel just to reach the pedals if you’re even a little overweight and your knees crammed against the glove box as a passenger even with the seat adjusted as far back as it will go if you’re 6’ tall or taller. Oddly, the Japanese-built vehicles feel more spacious inside than most American-branded ones; and on average they’re notably shorter as a race. Why?

When I was based in Germany with the Air Force, I had a friend who drove a VW Beetle. I commented on the fact that he drove with his seat as far forward as it would go, the seat back as straight as it would go and his chest practically jammed against the wheel. His response? “It’s safer because you won’t hit the wheel as hard in a collision as you would sitting farther back.” It made sense, to a point, but looked highly uncomfortable. Today? I feel I’m forced to sit that way even though I don’t want to. Sure, I’m not going to argue the safety of it, but I’m not going to like it, either.

So where are we going to end up with personal vehicles? Will they continue to grow more luxurious as the divide between work and play continues to narrow? Or will it get to the point that people no longer control their cars at all and the interior simply becomes another space to live in and be entertained as you go down the road? Will trucks and cars diverge again as the vast majority accept external control while one small minority ‘hoons’ around in custom sports cars, a second minority actually uses their trucks for work and a third minority tries to emulate the first both on the road and off? Will manual controls become as optional as manual transmissions–in many cases not EVEN an option? The way we’re headed now, it’s beginning to look that way.

One Response to Car and Truck Interiors

  1. Jason Lancaster says:

    I think consumer-oriented trucks are undergoing a major transition, from “utilitarian” to “status symbol.” For starters, cheap cargo vans have dramatically altered the business case for buying a pickup. If money is tight, you might go with a Transit Connect (unless you need an open bed).

    Second, Ford, GM, and Chrysler-Fiat all offer incredibly affordable base model trucks that get the work done for $20-$25k. Nothing special, just functional.

    Yet consumers roundly reject these utilitarian options, investing in crew cabs and platinum packages etc., many of which cost $40k-$50k. This is incredible pricing when you consider than any number of family vehicles (sedans, minvans, etc.) can be purchased for $30k or less.

    Considering the facts – that utilitarian trucks cost $20-$25k, and that consumers seem happy to spend $50k on a “family” truck when $30k would buy a more traditional family hauler – we’re left with one simple conclusion. Trucks are becoming luxury vehicles and status symbols…it’s a change that’s fundamentally at odds with the image of the pickup truck, just as you say.

    I agree – I’m not a fan. I’d like to see more utilitarian options all around.

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