The US pickup truck market has been one of the strongest segments of the auto industry for years. Last year, the top-selling vehicles—not just trucks, but actual vehicles—were three American-made pickup trucks. This dominance in the industry suggests something that could be very different between American trucks and Japanese trucks.
The Detroit Big Three are the best trucks on the market
If the sales numbers are any telltale sign, the top three vehicles sold in the United States last year were trucks from the Big Three Detroit automakers. This dominance of sales shows us that Americans choose the Chevrolet Silverado (519,774 sold), Ram trucks (569,388 sold) and Ford F-Series trucks (726,004 sold) more than any other vehicle on the market.
The best-selling Japanese pickup in 2021 was the midsize Toyota Tacoma, which had 252,490 total sales last year.
Japanese trucks have given us the first unibody trucks.
Most trucks are built with body-on-frame construction, a proven construction that offers more strength and capability, but is a bit tougher when it comes to overall ride quality. When the first generation of the Honda Ridgeline arrived, it became the first monocoque truck on the market.
Second-Generation Ridgeline Is Highest-Rated Pickup by US news and world report. Interestingly, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz, a rejuvenated newcomer to the compact truck market, ranks second. The Santa Cruz is another unibody truck and it comes from a Korean automaker, which we may need to add to this conversation when more trucks hit the market.
American half-ton trucks offer better towing and payload
It should come as no surprise that American trucks outperform Japanese pickups in towing and payload. The best half-ton trucks to tow are:
- Ford F-150 – 14,000 pounds
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500 – 13,300 lbs.
- Ram 1500 – 12,750 pounds
- Toyota Tundra – 12,700 pounds
- Nissan Titan – 9,320 pounds
The story is almost the same when we turn to the payload these trucks can carry. The best half-ton trucks for payload are:
- Ford F-150 – 3,325 pounds
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500 – 2443 lbs
- Ram 1500 – 2,325 pounds
- Toyota Tundra – 1940 pounds
- Nissan Titan – 1,646 pounds
Japanese trucks carried the torch of the midsize truck market during the American hiatus
A few years ago, the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Ford Ranger were not made or sold in the United States. The Ford Ranger continued to be sold in foreign countries, but not here. During that time, the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and Honda Ridgeline carried the torch in this truck market.
Today, we see more midsize and compact trucks than we have in almost twenty years. More new trucks make their way to the lineup each year. The Toyota Tacoma continues to be the best-selling truck in this segment. The Chevy Colorado came in second with 73,008 models sold in 2021.
Only American trucks are still offered with diesel powertrains.
GM and Ford recently upgraded the diesel powertrains in some of their trucks. Ram and GM models have been the only names with half-ton trucks to offer diesel engines for the past several years. GM leaned hard into the diesel truck market with diesel-powered midsize trucks, but that will change by 2023.
Although it is unknown how long American half-ton trucks will continue to offer diesel powertrains, all of Detroit’s Big Three heavy-duty trucks offer diesel engines.
Why are there no Japanese pickup trucks in the heavy truck class?
This is a good question that does not have a good answer. The Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan have never had larger models reaching the three-quarter or one-ton classes. The Nissan Titan XD came close, but that model has since been dropped from the lineup.
All three American automakers offer trucks in the heavy-duty classes and give us the Ford Super Duty, Chevrolet and GMC HD, and Ram 2500/3500 models.
Answering the original question: Are Japanese trucks really any different than American trucks?
Yes, Japanese trucks are extremely different from American trucks. While Japanese trucks carried over the midsize truck class and brought the first unibody model, the more powerful and capable trucks continue to be made by American automakers.