Today's Pickup Beds are the Focus of Design Innovation
The key characteristic separating a pickup from other vehicles is the cargo box, yet, in the past it typically hasn't been the focus of design innovation. Times are changing, and that giant storage bin behind the cab is being transformed into a much more useful space.
Improved storage options are among bed-improvement list-toppers. The realization that many owners use their pickups more for personal use than for heavy hauling has resulted in the advent of clever integrated bed storage areas. These bins allow the owner to stow smaller items that need to be protected from thieves and the weather.
Pioneering efforts for creating practical built-in storage compartments can be credited to Ram Trucks for introducing the RamBox Cargo Management System for 2009 crew-cab models. These 50.5-inch-long lockable, drainable dual storage bins are integrated into 5-foot-7-inch beds. Both RamBoxes combined can accommodate 7.4 cubic feet of stuff, including about 250 12-ounce beverage cans with ice.
For the 2012 model year, a longer and larger-volume 60-inch RamBox became available for 1500, 2500 and 3500 models with 6-foot-4-inch beds. The expanded-length boxes can hold cargo such as long-handled shovels and one-piece fishing rods. RamBoxes are $1,295 options on 2016 Ram pickups.
Nissan has made a significant step toward expanding cargo-box storage on its new 2016 Titan XD with a Box Bedliner. Standard on the Titan XD Platinum Reserve and a $985 option on other models are lockable, drainable bedside storage boxes mounted on the bed's lower side panels. Measuring about 58.5 inches long and 14.5 inches wide, the bins provide a secure hold to accommodate gear or iced-down beverages. When more bed space is needed, these storage units are easily removable by loosening four bolts.
Nissan's Titan XD is available with a $245 Rear Bumper Step Assist option that adds convenience to getting cargo in and out of the bed. The step hides beneath the rear bumper when it isn't needed.
The Titan XD continues with its industry-first standard factory-applied spray-on bedliner and the in-bed Utili-Track system it pioneered. The system features four sturdy aluminum cleats that can be slid and tightened along channels built into the walls and floor. Nighttime illumination is provided with flush-mounted bedrail LED lighting.
Ford's 2016 F-150 also offers LED box lights, as well as a new cargo management system and cargo ramps. These optional cargo ramps are conveniently stowed on both sides of the bed via Ford's new BoxLink cargo management system. The telescoping ramps, costing $635 for a set of two, are length-adjustable to provide loading flexibility.
The optional $80 BoxLink system allows bed customization using four lockable tie-down cleats. These can attach to the four additional BoxLink locations, as well as the four standard tie-down spots, or hook to an interface plate with a bungee cord, S-hook or E-track fitting.
Securing cargo in a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado bed is an efficient progress with the standard four tie-down locations integrated into the box's lower corners. An additional $60 for movable upper tie-downs is a good investment for those needing added flexibility in securing large or tall loads. The upper hooks are each rated at 250 pounds and can be positioned at multiple locations around the upper bed rails.
Cargo box LED lighting is available for $125. This bright lighting eliminates the need to use a flashlight in the dark or when a tonneau cover is in place. Both the Silverado and GMC Sierra offer a hard tri-folding tonneau cover for $920.
GMC pickups are available with clever options that provide easier access to the cargo box. A Cargo Box Retractable Side Assist Step, mounted at the rear side of crew cabs, flips down in a no-hands operation to provide a step up to the front of the bed.
New for 2016 on the Sierra Denali is a $995 Tri-Mode Power Steps option. These are full-length, retracting, power-operated running boards that articulate rearward with foot activation to provide bed access.
Great progress has been made by all manufacturers in tailgate design, with lift and lowering now typically a one-handed exercise. GM's EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate's operation is assisted by an internal torsion bar and rotary damper for low-effort opening and closing. Toyota's 2016 Tundra gets kudos for an easy lift-and-lower design, featuring a more-controlled, gradual-lowering tailgate. Tundra's tailgate has a standard lock feature and is easily removable.
Ford takes effortless tailgate operation to a new level with an optional Ford Remote Tailgate Release. Offered as a part of varying-priced Equipment Group packages, the remote tailgate release allows releasing and lowering the tailgate using the key fob.
Along with these significant innovations in cargo-box practicality, shopping manufacturers' accessories lists enables consumers to customize the beds of 2016 pickups with an impressive variety of special items -- dividers, bedliners, covers, tool boxes, bed extenders, etc. -- to fit their needs.
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TIM SPELL began writing in 1987 and is an automotive writer for the Houston Chronicle Cars & Trucks section. He also writes for industry magazines, Web sites and has hosted radio and TV shows. He received Best of Newspapers awards at the International Automotive Media Conference in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2006.