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The Top 10 Significant Trucks of the Decade

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Despite the economic challenges of the past two years, it’s hard not to look back at the past 10 years without calling it the Decade of the Pickup Truck. Sales of full-size pickups hit 2.56 million units in 2004, and Ford’s F-Series trucks remain the nation’s best-selling vehicles, 33 years in a row. and AutoPacific have compiled a list of the Top 10 Significant Pickup Trucks of the Decade from all of the new trucks sold between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. These trucks introduced new innovations, pushed the segment into new territory and made the competition sweat while helping their driver’s sweat less. There’s no rank order, but we’ve identified the pickup that was Most Significant.

2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab

Why it’s significant:
First compact pickup truck to offer four full-size doors and a configuration that prioritized passenger space over cargo capacity.

Crew cab pickups were popular in overseas markets long before they arrived in the U.S. Nissan was the first to offer buyers another choice beyond a regular or extended cab. Buyers loved the idea because entire families could now travel comfortably in pickup trucks on long trips or around town jaunts. The idea quickly gained traction with every manufacturer, and soon the crew cab made up almost half of the mix of all trucks sold.

2001 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra Heavy Duty with 6.6-Liter Duramax Diesel

Why it’s significant:
Made GM a serious player in heavy-duty pickups and raised the bar for diesel engines.

In 2000, GM held less than 10 percent market share in the three-quarter-ton and one-ton truck segments. Its 6.2-liter and 6.5-liter diesel engines weren’t competitive with the mills in Ford’s and Dodge’s trucks. But GM’s joint venture engineering and manufacturing agreement with Isuzu Motors of Japan changed all of that. With Isuzu’s help, the 2001 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks debuted with the all-new 6.6-liter V-8 turbo-diesel. It broke new ground in horsepower, torque and fuel economy and helped GM jump to more than 30 percent market share by 2002.

2002 Chevrolet Avalanche

Why it’s significant:
Combined the best attributes of a full-size SUV and pickup truck in a single vehicle.

The wild-looking Chevrolet Avalanche debuted as a lightly disguised concept at the 2000 North American International Auto Show, though GM intended to build it to fill the gap between the Suburban and Silverado full-size trucks. Its patented convert-a-cab system made it versatile for carrying passengers or cargo, by offering pass-through access between the cabin and bed and a removable rear window. Unibody exterior styling was unique, as well as the use of a multilink rear suspension and composite bed — traits that would be reused later in the decade by the Honda Ridgeline.

2004 Nissan Titan

Why it’s significant:
The first true full-size half-ton pickup truck from a Japanese automaker.

Japanese car companies had successfully entered almost every segment of the U.S. car and truck markets except the unique domain of the North American full-size pickup truck when Nissan unveiled the 2004 Titan. Sure, Toyota marginally stuck its toes in the segment with its T100 pickup in 1993, but the T100 was too small and underpowered to be a serious contender.

The Titan met about 80 percent of half-ton buyers’ needs with its 300-hp, 5.6-liter V-8, an advanced five-speed automatic transmission and a choice of extended cab or crew-cab configurations. It quickly gained a loyal following, but later years' sales were hampered by reliability issues with early trucks.

2005 Toyota Tacoma

Why it’s significant:
The best-selling small truck in the U.S.

Small truck sales have dwindled throughout the decade, but Toyota has managed to keep sales of the Tacoma relatively strong and take market share in this neglected segment. Just before the turn of the century, the Ford Ranger outsold Tacoma by more than 2-to-1. Today, it’s the exact opposite. The Tacoma offers a broad lineup of cab, body, wheelbase and engine choices with strong capabilities and excellent performance and refinement. What more could small-truck buyers want if they’re not going to buy a full-size pickup?

2006 Honda Ridgeline

Why it’s significant:
Created a class of one with its unique unibody construction and a trunk in the bed.

Love it or hate it (there’s no in-between), the Honda Ridgeline did what Japanese pickups have consistently done over the years: break new ground in terms of form and functionality. The Ridgeline came to market in 2005 with controversial slab-sided lunar-lander looks and all-wheel drive. It did away with conventional leaf springs in favor of an independent rear suspension that gave it great ride comfort and enough room for an in-bed lockable trunk, the first in a pickup. The Ridgeline also featured a dual-action tailgate that folded down or off to the side, like a door, to allow unimpeded access to the cargo box.

2007 Toyota Tundra

Why it’s significant:
Toyota’s no-holds-barred attempt to gain ground in full-size trucks.

When the 2007 Toyota Tundra debuted, it was notable for being two things: big and powerful. The Tundra was also the first truck in the half-ton segment with a six-speed automatic transmission. But just being big and powerful doesn’t automatically sell trucks. Several mechanical issues that garnered high visibility online with truck buyers and a lack of a large loyal buyer base contributed to a huge falloff in Tundra sales after it almost met its first-year sales goal of 200,000 units. Today, the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 all offer more powerful V-8 engines than the Tundra, and Ford is about to join that group, pushing the Tundra to fourth place for bragging rights. Tundra sales have shrunk to well below 100,000 units per year. It’s proof that the domestics still know how to build a superior vehicle.

2009 Dodge Ram 1500

Why it’s significant:
Ditched conventional leaf springs for a coil spring rear axle and added side saddle storage to the cargo box.

The 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 could have impressed many simply for its more powerful Hemi V-8, handsome exterior and totally revised interior. But Chrysler carried its half-ton pickup much further by featuring a coil spring rear axle — resurrecting an idea that GM tried between 1967 and 1972 in its C10 and C20 pickups — that gave the Ram 1500 unparalleled ride comfort and quality for a half-ton pickup. Towing was limited to only 9,100 pounds, but after a year of additional testing and real world results, Dodge re-rated the Ram 1500 to tow up to 10,450 pound – with no mechanical adjustments.

2009 Ford F-150

Why it’s significant:
Remains the gold standard against which other half-ton pickup trucks are compared.

Ford gave its F-150 half-ton pickup a major revision for 2009 and gave buyers an astonishing seven different models to choose from before they even considered engine choice or cab type. Two more models have been added for 2010! It’s not the most powerful truck, but the F-150 features an excellent six-speed transmission and innovative features like Ford Work Solutions that make doing jobs with a truck easier. From contractor to urban cowboy, Ford has an F-150 to meet almost anyone’s needs.

2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor:

Why it’s significant:
Ford had the guts to build a go-fast pre-runner-style factory pickup for less than $40,000

There’s nothing else like the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, and there likely may never be. It features a unique Fox Racing long-travel suspension that has a full 11inches of travel in the front dampers to absorb the impact from jumps – jumps! – made in the desert at speeds up to 100 mph. Its six-speed transmission is specially tuned with an off-road mode, and there’s a rear locking differential that works in two-wheel or four-wheel drive at speeds up to 66 mph. When other truck manufacturers mumble to themselves about the truck they wish they had in their lineup, Raptor is usually the first word that comes from their lips.

Honorable Mention: 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Several trucks in the list can be classified as sport utility trucks or SUTs. The Ford Explorer Sport Trac was one of the first SUTs and it continuously satisfied buyers in surveys. Based on the very successful Explorer SUV, the Sport Trac combined crew cab capability with SUV comfort and amenities but Ford never truly took advantage of the vehicle. The next generation Explorer, coming in 2010, will not have a Sport Trac derivative.

Honorable Mention: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado / GMC Sierra Two Mode Hybrids

Today, the price of oil is well below $100 a barrel and calls for fuel efficient big trucks aren't quite as urgent as they were when GM first showed off its segment-exclusive full-size Two-Mode Hybrid pickups. The 2009 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra Hybrids featured a 332 horsepower 6.0-liter V-8 paired with a technically advanced automatic transmission that included two 80 horsepower electric motors, three planetary gear sets, four sets of clutches and two hydraulic oil pumps. A 300 volt battery pack under the rear seat was powerful enough to accelerate the truck up to 20 mph on electricity alone — while pulling a 5,000 pound trailer! Fuel economy was rated at a remarkable 21/22 mpg city/highway. If GM can lower the cost of its next-generation hybrid pickups, perhaps we'll see this technology gain popularity.

Update #1 Dec-31-2009 08:25 PDT:
Added line to 2007 Toyota Tundra that it was first half-ton to debut with a six-speed automatic transmission.

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