Predicting trends is a mix of science and magic. As practical and no-nonsense as most pickup truck buyers are, sometimes the newest must-have feature can surprise even the most experienced owner.
Clearly, the pickup truck bed is an important component of the vehicle. But tailgate technology has remained mostly unchanged since the first closed pickup truck bed debuted almost 100 years ago — until recently that is. Lately we’ve seen a boom in solutions for making bed access easier, with Ram firing the latest salvo during the 2019 Chicago Auto Show. Here’s how current tailgate tech shakes out.
Ford was the first to strike 10 years ago with a factory-produced integrated bed step for the tailgate of the F-150. The step can be hidden when not needed and pulls out with the tailgate down, complete with a grab handle arm and single, pullout step. Until this point, pickup owners looked to aftermarket companies for attachable bed steps that looked more like small ladders. The “man step” is an option on both light-duty and heavy-duty models.
The newest — and most complicated solution to bed access — debuted with the introduction of the 2019 GMC Sierra 1500. Called the MultiPro Tailgate, it offers six separate positions to solve a number of truck-related problems, including easier access into the bed. Think of the MultiPro as a tailgate within a tailgate: A smaller tailgate drops separately inside the full-size tailgate. The inner tailgate is activated by its own button and can fold down 90 degrees to serve as a small, chest-high platform or drop down with the tailgate to provide a long footstep to get into the bed. The new system includes an extendable grab handle in the nearest corner of the bed. The MultiPro Tailgate is available on both the half-ton and HD models. One caveat: Make sure you don’t drop the MultiPro Tailgate if you have any kind of hitch on your truck — damage may ensue, unless you have a trailer plug attached (where an internal sensor will prevent the latch button from activating).
Ram recently revealed its new Multifunction Tailgate on the 2019 Ram 1500 at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, but we’ve been hearing about this 60/40-split barn-door-style tailgate for almost 10 years. We checked it out at the auto show and it looks pretty good. We put our full weight on the doors (just like we used to do on barn doors, riding them all the way to fully open) to see how sturdy they were. We can attest the extra framing seems well done. The design required additional bed and tailgate reinforcements, adding 75 pounds to the Ram 1500’s weight, which is not insignificant. A hidden cantilevered step sits under the bumper and allows access to the bed.
It seems so long ago that the Honda Ridgeline entered the mid-size truck market with one of the most creative pickup beds in the industry. Not only did it have a hidden storage bin under the bed floor (complete with a spare tire), but it also had the first dual-swing tailgate we’d seen. The tailgate, with two separately activated grab handles, could drop down like a conventional tailgate or swing out (hinged on the street side) like the rear door of a crossover or SUV. The dual-action feature was great for those who wanted to access the bed or storage bin without having to reach over tailgate. The Ridgeline does not have a bed step.
We expect tailgate technology to continue to ramp up as manufacturers look for ways to separate themselves from the competition. As to the future, we’re guessing Ford is due for a tailgate update and Chevrolet needs to do something interesting to be more competitive. For now, GMC’s clever tailgate is getting the lion’s share of the attention.