The Texas Truck Rodeo, an annual get-together of trucks, SUVs and automotive media from in and around Texas, paid a return visit to San Antonio’s Knibbe Ranch on the second weekend of October. There, among a field of some sixty entries, approximately forty journalists kicked up some dust in evaluating as many trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles as possible over two days and roughly twelve hours. In a vein all-too-similar to what transpired at last year’s roundup, Chrysler’s Ram and Jeep completed a near sweep , and had execs from Chevy, Ford and Toyota – you guessed it – Chryin’ out loud!
Of course, while the names may not have (significantly) changed, the economic landscape since fall 2012 has done a ‘180’. Those plants making trucks and SUVs can’t run enough shifts, nor can product planners stuff their lineups with enough options. Jeep’s Grand Cherokee is an obvious example. The Limited trim, once regarded as Jeep’s top-of-the-line, is now little more than a leather-wrapped Laredo, while consumers’ big bucks flow to Jeep’s Summit, the top trim among four available levels. And while you can’t fault Jeep management for pushing the (pay) envelope, the Summit’s point of entry is north of $50K. What was once a decidedly blue collar showroom has evolved into a distinctly blue blood environment, accessed – we’ll guess – via a red (as in debt load) carpet.
The same, of course, has taken place within the pickup ranks. A creeping window sticker has been evident for some model years, but was typically seen only in Ford’s King Ranch and – more recently – GM’s GMC Denali. Now it’s Katy-bar-the-door, as Ram offers its Laramie Longhorn, Chevy brings to market its High Country and Toyota affixes numeric badging – 1794 – to its upmarket Tundra. Most entries begin in the high $40s and, when offered in HD spec, can top out at $70K. At one point you could buy a farm for $70K.
This year the confluence of new product created an almost perfect storm. GM has only recently introduced its 2014 Silverado, Ram upfitted last year’s winning 1500 with a 3.0 liter EcoDiesel, and Toyota added all-new sheetmetal and interior upgrades to its well-developed Tundra. And while Ford ‘holds’ with its F-150 and F-250 Super Duty, you couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t count Henry out, given its established success with Texas consumers and the growing popularity of its EcoBoost V6.
With tanks drained and journalists exhausted, ballots were cast, votes counted and the results announced early in the afternoon of the Rodeo’s second day. For winning percentage – on the admittedly more modest scale of an import brand – the nod goes to Nissan, with wins in Compact Crossover (the Juke, with no other competitive entries in the category), Full-size Crossover (Pathfinder) and Midsize Pickup (Frontier). Only Nissan’s new NV200 commercial van failed to grab its category, placing second to Ram’s ProMaster Tradesman.
The most coveted trophies were won by Jeep’s Grand Cherokee (SUV of Texas), Hyundai’s Santa Fe (CUV of Texas) and Ram’s Ram 1500 (Truck of Texas). As an astute observer might conclude, Ram also took the nod for Truck Lineup of Texas. With that, few would have guessed (I didn’t) that Chrysler would also take Best Technology (its 5-link rear suspension), Best Connectivity (Chrysler’s UConnect Access) and Best Powertrain (the 3.0 liter EcoDiesel, shared by Jeep and Ram). For the sake of variety, there were other notable winners, and they include:
* Midsize Crossover – Hyundai Santa Fe
* Luxury Crossover – Acura MDX
* Compact Crossover – Jeep Cherokee
* Midsize SUV – Jeep Grand Cherokee
* Full-size SUV – Dodge Durango (single entry)
* Compact Luxury SUV – GMC Terrain Denali
* Midsize Luxury SUV – Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Diesel
* Full-size Luxury SUV – Land Rover Range Rover
* Offroad SUV – Jeep Wrangler
* Full-size Pickup – Ram 1500
* Luxury Pickup – Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn
* Heavy Duty Pickup – Ram 2500
* Offroad Pickup – Ford Raptor
Ford and GM, with significant commitments to their lineups and staffing, each took home but one prize. To GM’s credit they populated both the truck and SUV ranks, while Ford left Escapes, Edges and Explorers back in Dearborn. Of course, the no-shows were joined (if that’s the word) by other notable absences, including Audi, BMW, Honda, Mazda, Porsche and Volvo. Even in the absence of credit given by those PR departments to Texas-based media, you’d think their marketing arms would want to throw some love at Texas-based consumers.
Toyota left with a bunch of 1st runner-ups, roughly akin to kissing your sister a half-dozen times. To Toyota’s credit it, too, made a full commitment to the Rodeo, and some would argue the Truck of Texas, with all things being roughly equal, should be assembled in Texas. Only Toyota’s pickups – the Tundra and Tacoma – are built here, at Toyota’s plant on the south side of San Antonio.
Regardless of wins or losses, the chance to compare competitive vehicles in a side-by-side environment is a big win for both journos and OEM reps. The diesel-equipped Mercedes GLK was an absolute delight, but the warm-and-fuzzy was reduced – significantly – by a window sticker just south of $60K. In constrast, the category-winning GMC Terrain Denali, priced at just over $40K, seemed like a screamin’ bargain. But at the end of the day it was very much The Year of the Ram and Jeep…for Chryin’ out loud.