Ford Ranger Vs F150

Twenty-Seven Years of Pickup Truck Design

Former Streetsblog USA writer Angie Schmitt has recently been making the point on Twitter that, despite the extremity of our climate crisis, the transition to sustainable transportation can’t be instantaneous because of our sprawling built environment. We therefore will need both EVs (maybe including ebikes, though she doesn’t address this) and smaller/safer vehicles for people who live in places where walking and transit are not realistic for most trips.

This post is about one of those two needs: smaller vehicles that make it safer for everyone who is walking and biking, combined with more conscientious driving. You may have seen this graphic that illustrates the problem with the massive personal trucks that are legal and increasingly common on our streets today:

Person between front of a large pickup truck and a car, showing truck front hits strike zone of vital organs while car hits their legs

Graphic by Don Kostelec


Pickup trucks have not always been this size, and the change didn’t happen back in the ancient history of car design. Many of us are old enough to remember not just officially smaller trucks, like the now-discontinued Chevy S10 and Ford Ranger (RIP 2004 and 2011, respectively), but also that most of the current truck models used to be significantly smaller than they are now. And that their design aesthetics were less intentionally aggressive when they were smaller, too.

When did each truck brand change its size and aesthetic? Here’s a pictorial history.

Chevy Silverado

The Silverado started out as a fairly rugged truck design — it wasn’t small (that’s what the S10 was for). It was boxy and functional-looking, though. In 2007 and 2008, the design of the front end started to change, rising higher. By 2014, check out that thick slab of metal jutting out in front of the driver. The 2019 model has an almost fully tank-like front end. And remember: the Silverado is smaller than all of the GMC trucks that GM sells.

Dodge Ram 150 or 1500

Dodge Ram was the trendsetter in adding aggression to the design of pickup trucks. (The Ram 150 is pictured through the mid-2000s, when it appears to have been magically upsized into the 1500, since adding a zero made the model more appealing, I guess). But the design change had happened between 1993 and 1994 when the snout was added, putting the “ram” in Ram. Over time, the snout became more pronounced, as seen best in the 2004 photo.

Because Dodge is the one that started the design arms race, it’s hard for me to admit that at this point, the Ram design feels less aggressive than that of the Ford F-150. But when I encounter these two different trucks on the street as a pedestrian, I know which one makes me feel less safe, and it’s the Ford.

Ford F-150

Note that the F-150 was still smallish and mostly unassuming-looking until the mid-2000s. The design started to change around the time Barack Obama became president, getting increasingly tank-like. By 2015 it was in full battering-ram mode and continues in that format today. Remember, the F-150 is the smallest truck Ford now sells (there’s also an F-250 and a F-350).

Here are a few other photos from our streets:

Red GMC truck with chrome bull bars like a fence over the front

Bull bars, as shown on this GMC truck in a Saint Paul intersection, literally add injury to the insult of the original dangerous vehicle design. Photo by Pat Thompson.


White Denali truck parked in a spot clearly labeled NO OVERSIZED VEHICLES

This GMC Denali truck is not an oversized vehicle, nope, not an oversized vehicle. Of course, it did not fit in this parking spot in any direction. Photo by Pat Thompson.


Smaller white Ford Ranger next to a large white Ford F150, almost twice as big

A rarely seen Ford Ranger, discontinued in 2011, is juxtaposed here to a newish Ford F-150… now the smallest truck Ford sells now. Yes, the larger truck hangs over about half of the public sidewalk in the back. Photo by Pat Thompson.


Graph of pickup truck weights, 1990-2018, increasing from 4000 lbs to just over 5000, peaking in 2014

Since 1990, the average weight of pickups has increased by 1,256 lbs or 32%. (Data: Oak Ridge National Lab)


The upshot of all this, in my opinion: If people need pickup trucks (instead of just driving them as if they were cars, which is all too often the case), the trucks should be, at a minimum:

  • designed at the smallest size possible, instead of being locked in an arms race of height and bulk.
  • legally required to take the front-end strike zone and blindspot into account in the design.
  • designed to meet fuel-emissions standards in step with those of other passenger vehicles (which should all be on more aggressive downward paths than they are currently).

It goes without saying that electric pickup trucks need to be brought to market ASAP…and it sure would be nice if truck design aesthetics could reflect something other than aggression and hatred (ahem, Cybertruck).


Pat Thompson

About Pat Thompson

Pat Thompson is cochair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council's Transportation Committee, a member of Transition Town - All St. Anthony Park, and a gardener in public and private places. She is a member of the Climate Committee.