First off, I want to be clear that I’m a champion of small, useful trucks. I love them! There’s a reason I picked a tiny Taylor-Dunn workhorse for the Autopian’s first Truck of the Year, and why I braved the wrath of so many Ford F-150 owners when I pointed out how a small, one-cylinder Indian-market pickup had more payload capacity than some F-150s. Big-ass trucks do not always make a lot of sense, and if all you’re doing in them is driving to work and getting groceries or taking your dog to the movies or whatever then it’s possible you’re using the wrong tool for the job. Then again, drive what you want. I’m bringing all this up because there’s been another half-assed viral car-related tweet that’s blown up and has been seen by millions, shared by the kind of smug jackasses you desperately try to avoid at parties. Last time it was about how all SUVs allegedly look alike, and this time it’s about being wrong but still a judgy prick about truck bed sizes. I guess we may as well do this.
Here’s the tweet about this I saw first, coming from a Twitter account named “FuckCars,” which might be valuable context to keep in mind:
A new F-150 is just a minivan with a doorless trunk. pic.twitter.com/IsRZeyJB4v
— FuckCars (@FuckCarsReddit) January 29, 2023
At most recent count, that tweet has been seen 11.3 million times, which is a lot of times for anything to have been seen by anyone. I’ve probably only seen The Big Lebowski one-millionth of that many times, and I think it’s a fantastic movie, for example. So, what’s this tweet saying? It appears to show how truck bed length has decreased as a percentage of overall length over the F-150’s lifetime, based on measurements from 1961 to 2021. I’m pretty sure anyone reading this sees the inherent flaw here, but before we address this wildly obvious elephant in the room wearing a hat that says ELEPHANT in bright LEDs, let’s go to the source data of this chart, which is noted as coming from Axios, specifically this article, which is a subset of this longer, more involved one.
Essentially, what that Axios article describes is how the pickup truck in America has transitioned from being primarily a workhorse vehicle into a much more mainstream, general-use family car, and the associated body and other changes that went along with that, most specifically cab size. This is generally a reasonable observation about what’s been happening over the decades, and there’s definitely positives and negatives to this trend.
The viral tweet latches onto one part of the Axios story, how the cab to bed ratio seems to have changed over the years, and states that “A new F-150 is just a minivan with a doorless trunk.” Now, even if we ignore the weird language (doorless trunk? Who talks like that?) and the strange attempt at minivan shaming (there’s nothing wrong with a minivan [Ed Note: Also, trucks don’t have sliding doors, so this makes no sense. -DT]) we can’t ignore what this whole mess ignores: You can still buy single-cab, long-bed pickup trucks. If we look at a brand-new Ford F-150 with a long (8 foot) bed with a single cab and compare it to one of those 1961-1979 F-150s shown in that chart, and then do our own math based on the overall length of the truck and seeing what percentage the bed takes up, we see it’s just about identical:
Comparing apples to apples here, where those apples have single-cabs and long-beds, we see that bed percentage of overall length really hasn’t changed all that much at all. And, if we’re feeling saucy, like we clearly are, why shouldn’t we also just take a moment to note that the modern truck is much more fuel efficient and wildly safer than the old F-150, at least from the perspective of the people inside. It’s not wrong that bigger and heavier pickup trucks can cause more damage in wrecks, but it’s not like being hit by a ’70s-era F-150 is a picnic, either.
The Axios article has a similar graphic to the one in the tweet, too, and it’s similarly misleading:
This isn’t showing any ratios flipping, it’s comparing fundamentally different types of trucks. A crew cab, by the very nature of how human bodies require physical space to exist, needs to be bigger. And, unless you want your truck itself to be even longer, then you have to take that space from somewhere, hence shorter beds. It’s not a new thing, it’s how crew cabs have always worked.
That old ’70s Ford extended cab on the left there has a long bed, and the whole thing is incredibly long; and that’s not even a full crew cab, it just has two doors. And other crew cab designs like the Volkswagen Type 2 double-cab there has a shorter bed, but still decently long, and keeps the overall length short because it’s a rear-engine-under-the-bed design with no hood, something that’s not really feasible if we care about meeting modern crash standards. Don’t get me wrong, I love that design, but there’s actual reasons why modern crew cab trucks look the way they do.
This isn’t a trend of “shrinking beds” as those graphs and articles claim, it’s a change in how people use trucks, and I think it uses the trends of more mainstream truck ownership to make some kind of vague point that we’re all going crazy and being more and more wasteful and killing everyone and somehow the inherent problem is our nation’s love for trucks, which are, you know, bad I guess.
But, any amount of scrutiny shows that this really isn’t the case. Yes, we all could get by with smaller cars for most use. I believe this, and, as a driver of a miniscule 52 hp weirdo car, I practice what I preach. But that doesn’t mean I see the past through a rose-tinted windshield and think every current truck owner is a monster, because they’re not, and modern trucks aren’t the demons they’re made out to be.
As far as the argument goes that it’s terrible that four-door crew cab pickup trucks have become normal, everyday cars, let’s not forget what normal family cars were like in the past. Growing up, my family’s two-car fleet was made up of a 1968 VW Beetle and one of these:
Yes, a Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon. Long as a truck, big-ass V8 engine, gas mileage numbers that, if they were the age of a child, would be definitively pre-B’nai Mitzvah, and about as safe in a wreck as being in a file cabinet dropped from a second-story window. Modern trucks may be excessive as family cars, but to cast this excess as something new and representative of some sort of moral decline is just not looking at what the past was really like. Even the most ostentatious-seeming modern big-ass truck gets better fuel economy, is vastly safer, and pollutes a hell of a lot less than family cars from the past decades. It doesn’t matter if it’s a truck or a station wagon.
Plus, charts like these deliberately ignore huge-selling double-cab pickup trucks like the Ford Maverick, which has the big cab and short bed these articles and tweets are lamenting, but can also get 40 mpg in its entry-spec hybrid form. A compact car like a Honda Fit, for example, gets about 35 mpg combined. So, really, what’s the matter with the Maverick being a truck with a big cab and a short bed?
What seems to be going on here with these tweets and articles is that they seem to want to make trucks into this scapegoat for everything that’s going poorly in the automotive space, when the reality is that like almost every other category of motor vehicle, they’re getting safer, more efficient, less polluting, and more. Sure, they’re also more expensive, more feature-laden, harder to repair on your own, and, yeah, probably generally more vehicle than is needed for most situations.
What cars become popular has never been rational. People don’t buy cars for rational reasons, and people have been buying cars for stupid reasons like status markers since cars have existed. If you can’t accept that, then you’re living on the wrong planet, because that’s how humans work, for better or worse.
If you want to tweet about some car-related things that actually matter and aren’t, you know, provably wrong with minimal effort, tweet about how cool tiny efficient cars can be! But if someone rolls by in a pickup truck with a bed only 37% of the overall length of the vehicle, just calm the fuck down, and be happy that they’re possibly getting better fuel economy and almost certainly polluting less than a 1990s Camry.