Home » How I Would Design A Modern Cabover Pickup Truck: A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas

How I Would Design A Modern Cabover Pickup Truck: A Car Designer Sketches Your Ideas

Cabover Lead Image

“The People have voted. The bastards,” a wise man once said.  We have tallied your votes on the Autopian’s powerful Ball-o-tron 9000, a weird glowing cube under my drafting table (When I asked David how it was humming and glowing without even being plugged in, he gave me a very serious stare and said “Don’t Ever Ask That Again”), and by far the vehicle you maniacs wanted to see next was a cabover pick up truck. So allow me to try my hand at one.

I mulled this as I was rearranging my black turtle neck sweater drawer (it’s the one underneath my watch collection drawer). You see, you can of course still get those adorable Kei cabover pick ups in Japan and on much of the Asian subcontinent. It’s a perfect way to have maximum utility in a compact size. If you had a death wish you could even import an old one into the USA. So there wouldn’t be much point in doing something like that (even though that’s where my mind was originally wandering – some sort of last mile commercial/gig economy type thing). [Editor’s note: Quite a few folks are doing that these days! -DT]. And if you’re masochist enough Chevrolet will sell you something called a “Low Cab Forward.” But that has the slight problem of being a massive commercial vehicle.


Then I thought about the Ford Ranger. I’m sure it’s a fine vehicle (I’ve never driven one) but the issue is for the single cab the bed is 72-inches long in a vehicle that is 210-inches long in total. So only about a third of the length is given over to cargo. That’s bonkers. A cabover would do much better and we could probably get the bed length to the hallowed 8-ft figure. But I wanted something more than that — something more sophisticated and cool that would still have lots of utility, but would also be suitable to be your daily driver when you weren’t helping your friends move a couch.


And then it hit me. What if we merged the first generation Toyota Previa with a VW Transporter? The Previa’s problem with it being mid engined was that there wasn’t room for a bigger motor, so it felt a bit underpowered for U.S. tastes. The VW’s problem was it didn’t have an engine at all, just a metal box that turned gas into noise. And it was in the wrong place; but it was supremely space efficient. What I’m thinking is we can have a nice modern hybrid power plant tucked way down low in the middle of the chassis (modern engines being much more reliable, the location is less of an issue), stuff the thing with batteries, and send the power to the rear wheels. Keep the whole thing reasonably close to the ground for better aero and ability to chuck stuff in the bed, and job done I’m off to the pub. Cabover3

What I’ve done this week is slightly different. It’s four very different versions all on the same platform (I’ve used the same wheels in every sketch). The length I’ve decided should be about 190-inches – the same as a long wheelbase Transit Connect but way shorter than a Ranger (which is actually longer than it’s name sake, the full size Range Rover! [Editor’s Note: It should be obvious by now that Adrian is British. -DT]) but the height varies. And yes, one of them is an aggressive active leisure jacked up 4WD thing because I’m the Chief Designer around here that’s why.


As usual feel free to leave scorn, skepticism and suggestions in the comments; I’ll dive in as well and we’ll figure out which direction we’re going to take this in. And if I’ve missed something blindingly obvious, please say so.

My old Chief Designer genuinely used to say design is not a democracy. Well, that’s easy enough to say when you don’t have a strange glowing cube under his desk.

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107 Responses

  1. So, like in an early VW bus the driver’s feet are the crumple zone? 🙂

    I would love to have a 2dr, slightly longer bed version of the Ford Maverick, hybrid powertrain, cvt and all but all trucks seem to have been decreed as 4 drs now.

  2. The Unimog stands out the most to me – front makes me think “Bulldog”. The trellis sounds great for cargo attachment but gives it a weird vibe. Change that, lean into the big dog look and there ought to be a market, right?
    The last one, that would be more of a daily for me of all of them, but then I don’t use a truck often. I like it though!
    First and third have the most “sci-fi movie” feeling, not sure about the front scoop on the friendly first – seems like a turtle face. The dropping side-gates are a great addition though.
    Really appreciated these visualizations, very cool! <3

  3. Alright….
    Ive owned nothin but 3 semi-consecutive generations of Accords… Ive driven a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 8th. The 8th gen is when I decided… Im not driving this damn car again. (That and my neighbors at the time had this.. thing they did that PINGED my O.C.D to the Nth level. They used to put 2 cars nose to tail, within 1″ of each other in a spot meant for one regular sized vehicle.) They also used to trade out and or lease cars with no rhyme or reason for the complete opposite type and or MFR. I saw Accords and or Camrys parked nose to tail = 1″ enough times. Gives me the heebie jeebies… its inhumane to park that close to each other… regardless of my O.C.D and or A.D.D, A.D.H.D personality traits / modifiers.

    Its entirely inhumane to park that closely to one another. == Another clue that the vehicles were parked using the beeping system. (Another trait of current vehicles, I refuse to ackmowledge, participate, or respect.)

    With that said, Ive had my current 05 Element for about 8yrs and shes been pretty decent. Plyable and able to do as Id like. Id prefer a 5spd and or a stick, cause shes dog slow.. until she gets to 4th. (Which is funny because in my 7th gen Accord, that car had a 5th gear, while this one doesnt.)

    I love having all my stuff covered.. in a vehicle thats not a SUV. Element was a combination of a CRV and Civic from 03-05. Id love another VAN vehicle… but back when I purchased her.. ya couldnt find anyone who made a VAN. Now that Ive had her for 8yrs on.. Id like another VAN.. but Ferd and everyone else has priced the VAN out of the reach of anyone else. — Theyve also made the Van priced so high… its insane. Even the Ranger which is butt cheap, starts at a stupid price. It included a plethoria of tech BULLSHIT, that I dont fucking want. YET has the very minimal of interior trims. But interior colors are non existant, as is a shifter, analog guages and other stuff.. thats TACTILE. SO hypothetically Id trade a car whos purpose is utility.. for a vehicle thats sold on its tech BULLSHIT.. with utlity as a side option.

    In short… damn near impossible to replicate my car.

    Number 1,2, and 3 are extremely alike. Only difference is the headlights are that are “friendly”. Some slight differences in the fake underbody plastic cladding and or some side paneling. I like the CAB configuration of the 3rd drawing, but I want lighting thats Bold. Not aggressive… but bold, maybe a slight mixture of grey kevlar covered plastic coloring around the lights.

    Also, the wheels are nice… but Id reverse them for a “Turbine wheel”.

  4. These are great. I will say, as the owner of a 1990s Japanese kei cabover, that a little room (12-18″) for storage behind the seats is worth a lot. Don’t need Chevy S-10 style jump seats back there (but handy if you can make room for those), but having a secure, dry interior space as part of the compact overall package will make daily life more joyful.

    1. Yes I agree. Years ago a friend of mine had a Hilux (which he adored) and on the occasions I borrowed it the lack of inside storage space used to drive me nuts. A single bag of groceries? Yeah that’s going in the passenger footwell. Your jacket? On the passenger seat. etc etc.

  5. Well, I WANTED to be a car designer when I was a kid in the 50’s and 60’s, but found out I didn’t really have any artistic talent, so there went THAT dream out the window…..

    I can’t draw my ideas / comments on a cab-forward pickup, but I can tell them to you…….
    First up, I like sketch #1 the best….. Drop-down bed sides are an excellent idea, particularly with today’s REALLY big pickups. Now, my ideas:
    1. For a crew-cab version, you can put the front doors in front of the wheel opening, and the rear doors behind the front wheel opening. If you design it properly, you might even be able to make the main door structures swap sides, the left front door shell also being used as the right rear door shell, etc….
    2. A ‘short hood/nose’ design (like the 2nd-generation Ford Econoline, 1969 – 1974) can offer a small front ‘frunk’ (and provide the necessary crash protection), you can have the unit electric powered, with the batteries under the central portion, offsetting the forward weight bias.
    3. A ‘maxi-cab’ (extra-cab) can still give you a full 7 or 8-foot bed length in a shorter overall length. A crew cab will still give you a 6 or 7 foot bed length. (depending on the design, of course…)
    4. A cab-forward design also lends itself to a cargo or passenger version, so you get multiple vehicles off the same platform.
    5. If you needed the cab-forward pickup to be gasoline or diesel engine powered, I think a flat Subaru 4 or 6 would be the ideal engine. Packaging the engine and designing an effective cooling system might be a bit challenging though.

    1. It’s never too late to start sketching for fun, if you have that itch. There are lots of free resources on popular video websites, and books available as well. I firmly believe sketching is a teachable skill.

  6. As noted, the VW bus was not really a COE, but it did retain the main advantage of the COE design, which is that the driver is always the first one to the scene of the accident.

    I like the utility of all the designs, but I am too risk averse to ever want to drive one because old. Great work, though.

  7. I was genuinely confused about your opinion that the Ford Ranger was named for the Range Rover. This is made more confusing by the fact that the North American Ranger was a Ford design but there was a later rebadged Mazda called the Ranger elsewhere started in the 90s. This Wikipedia page is useful.


    Looking it up, the original Ranger came out in 1982. American sales of the Land Rover Range Rover began in 1987. I’m going to go out on a limb and say there is no way the Ranger was named for the Range Rover.

  8. Love #1, love #2, #3 could use a dump bed attachment (gravel, home improvement store runs, etc.) and I can see myself cruising down the road in #4. All in all very nice designs, thank you sir.


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