As a design student in the early '90s, I was fortunate enough to visit the design studios of the big three auto manufacturers in Detroit on a class trip. One highlight was meeting Michael Santoro, who was then a brash young designer for Chrysler, and he showed us some revolutionary sketches of the then-forthcoming second generation Ram pickup truck.
I didn't realize it at the time, but what he showed us would change, at least in my opinion, the course of all future full-size pickup designs by all of the major brands. (I'm sorry I don't have photos of Santoro's sketches to show you, but this was a pre-digital camera era; you'll have to rely on my descriptions.)
First off, consider what your average pickup truck looked like in 1993, the year before the 2G Ram came out. In particular, pay close attention to the front ends:
Between the three brands, all of the front ends look relatively square and pretty similar. There are disparities in the shape of the headlamps and the grill grids, but one commonality is that the tops of all of the headlamps are level with the tops of the grills.
Now look at the redesigned Ram, which came out in model year 1994:
To understand what we're seeing, consider what the front end of big-rig trucks of the era looked like:
The headlamps on all of the big rigs are down near the bumper. The grills and cowlings for the massive engines stretched upwards between two fenders. Chrysler's aesthetic innovation was to borrow this look, dropping the headlights, creating discrete fenders and streamlining their previously boxy form, in order to recall the appearance of a big rig truck.
The redesign yielded immediate and profound results. In 1993, Ram sales were 95,542 units annually. The redesigned 1994 model sold a whopping 232,092 units, more than doubling sales. Annual sales figures further increased, into the 400,000s, for the remainder of the '90s.
The pickup trucks of today are all distinctly different than their pre-1994 forebears. While the low-headlights trend has withered and disappeared, all full-size pickup manufacturers--Dodge, Ford, Chevy and the newer Nissan and Toyota competitors--now have massively blocky front ends with enormous air dams and a big-rig-like appearance. I believe that this trend all started with Chrysler and their second-generation Ram. This was a significant milestone for auto design, in that you had a clearly flagging brand whose fortunes were reversed by bold design changes.
For those of you interested in another design rescue story of the era, check out the New York Times' 1993 article "The Designers Who Saved Chrysler."
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This design change also required some uncharacteristic boldness on the part of the executives.
I may not get this story exactly right, but it is so long since I read the Bob Lutz book "Guts" that it comes from. He wrote that when they consumer-tested this new "big-rig" design against a then conventional design, a larger percentage of pickup owners preferred the conventional design. However, a smaller percentage of all pickup truck owners LOVED the big-rig design. Standard marketing-think at the time was to go with the design people preferred. But Lutz reasoned that the only way for Chrysler to grow their tiny share in lucrative pickups (around 5%) was to convert buyers of other brands to Chrysler would take passion, not mere preference. And the percentage of people passionate about the big-rig design, although fewer than those who preferred the conventional design, was something like twenty percent -- four times Chrysler's market share.
Unfortunately, this very successful appeal to emotion, coupled with US light trucks' exemption from CAFE fuel economy standards and cheap gas, set off a race to ever larger and more powerful pickup trucks, often sold to customers who had no use for a pickup truck at all. The aftermarket solved the ergonomic problems of higher and higher truck beds with a variety of tailgate steps and ladders: http://tiny.cc/gsva2y. And each of the Detroit automakers have now added a mid-sized pickup, similar in size to the full-sized trucks of a few decades ago. https://www.ford.com/trucks/ranger/. But we're still putting a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere fueling those big-rig fantasies.
I'd be very curious to see how vehicle safety design standards changed in the early 90's. More and more vehicle designers are constrained by regulations that dictate aspects for things such as pedestrian safety. Sometimes they are given costly design-arounds when performance is on the line (e.g. https://jalopnik.com/5405312/nissan-gt-r-hits-tow-hitch-causes-18000-repair-bill)
I imagine there might have been something about trucks and SUV's creating more of a peripheral pedestrian/bicyclist deflection functionality versus the pedestrian catcher of yesteryear. Take the '93 Dodge picture you provided for example. You'll never see OEM vertical bumper protectors anymore.
Our safety standards are not as pedestrian focused as European standards, but since international sales make up for a large revenue stream for manufacturers, it would make sense that American car companies want to keep their international sales options as open as possible.
I distinctly remember when that trend emerged- noting how they borrowed the look from big rigs. I thought it was a great change at the time
This is just my opinion, but these new Chevy trucks just appear as big, stupid rectangle blocks on wheels to me. They're such an eyesore.
Agreed. Of the 2019 line-up shown I would place them in in the following order with zero brand loyalty:
That 93 Ram tho.... like it's just waiting for Stallone to jump it off a cliff