Why Do Pickup Trucks Have Such Aggressive Front Ends?

CC BY 2.0. Escalade at Toronto Auto Show/ Lloyd Alter

They need air for those big engines, but it's mostly about design.

We do go on about how dangerous American SUVs and pickup trucks are with their big front ends, and how, as the Detroit Free Press reporters noted and were quoted in an earlier post, America's love of SUVs is killing pedestrians.

We have quoted Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of UMTRI who concluded that "a pedestrian hit by an LTV (light truck vehicle, which includes minivans, pickup trucks and SUVs) is more than three times more likely to be killed than one hit by a car – less due to the vehicle’s greater mass than due to its height and the design of its front end." So why do they look like this?

Dodge Ram truick

Ram pickup truck/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Jason Torchinsky picks up the torch and writes on Jalopnik that We need to talk about truck design right now before it's too late. He notes that it is just getting worse every year: "Truck grilles are growing at alarming rates, and becoming more and more intricate, Baroque, and confrontational." And it is all about design, rather than any serious question of function.

We’re in an alarming feedback loop of unhinged design, sales competition, and focus groups that’s threatening to suck us all through maws of vast meshes of perforated plastic and into the swirling blades of a radiator fan.
Lincoln at auto show

Lincoln at Toronto Auto Show/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I learned from Torchinsky that LTVs have to pass a tough SAE J2807 test, "a 100 degree Fahrenheit full-laden slog up the steep grade of the Colorado River’s Davis Dam while pulling a trailer and with the AC on full blast." That needs a lot of moving air to keep that radiator cool. But how much?

Generously-sized grilles have always been part of truck design—well, at least front-engined, water-cooled truck design—but what we’re currently experiencing goes way beyond just having a big grille. The goal of modern truck grilles—especially the larger, Heavy Duty spec trucks—seems to be less about getting the required cooling air and more about creating a massive, brutal face of rage and intimidation.
Ram on Toronto Street

Ram on Toronto Street/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

While the visual goal of big trucks has for years been to intimidate, I feel like now we’re veering into territory where the desired reaction from seeing a modern truck is short, involuntary emissions of urine right into your underpants.

He is right in that sometimes it feels that one is walking by a building rather than a vehicle, they are so tall. I worry about kids, about the aging baby boomers who are shrinking, I worry about the stopping distance on these massive things.

Ram at Toronto show

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I continue to wonder at how people can complain that distracted walking is causing the increase in the number of pedestrian deaths, when the proportion of vehicles sold that are pickups and SUVs is going up so fast that the manufacturers are not even making cars anymore. You get stuck on the grille of one of these monsters and you are dead. Surely that is having a bigger impact on the numbers.

Bonnie with truck

For scale, TreeHugger Bonnie with truck in Scottsdale/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

We keep saying "driver not car" but vehicle design has a lot to do with it. As I have said before, make trucks and SUVs as safe as cars or get them off the roads.