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The 'light truck' was 'the 1980s equivalent of the sports car'

Women and professionals were increasingly buying sporty, fun light trucks in 1987.

New category of vehicle was gaining speed on the passenger car in 1987

CBC's Venture looks at the trend away from passenger cars to sporty vehicles. 2:08

Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were planning to buy a car — an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, maybe.

"But then everything changed around," said Mr. Edwards.

CBC's Venture had found them on a new car lot in 1987, considering joining the growing ranks of light truck owners.

"North American estimates say 600,000 people a year are switching from cars to trucks," said reporter Rae Hull.

'Car alternatives'

"Canada's largest Cadillac dealer can't keep enough light trucks in stock," said Venture reporter Rae Hull. (Venture/CBC Archives)

"Light trucks aren't quite what they used to be," said Hull. "The industry now calls them 'car alternatives.'" 

The new breed of trucks had AM/FM cassette players and full air conditioning, for example.

"It's as luxurious inside as a lot of our top model Cadillacs," said salesman Bill Wallace. "But you can drive in three feet of snow."

And a lot of the people buying them — a third, by on estimate — were women.

The burgeoning truck market of 1987 was a reaction to the compact cars of the late 1970s, said Duncan Brodie of GMC.

"The market was those young urban professionals with time and money to spend," said Hull. "They needed the space for surfboards rather than two-by-fours."

Practical, comfortable ... and trendy

The appeal of the light truck is the image it projects. 1:30

"Sure, people buy them because they're practical and comfortable," said Hull. "But they're also trendy."

A truck owner said people viewed him as the "outdoorsy type," and that he was "always camping and going fishing kind of thing."

And that was exactly the image that American Motors wanted to reinforce with its Jeep.

"The Jeep would really like to be in this environment, off road, that feeling of freedom," said Brian Rivers, describing the Jeep ad campaign.

A mock-up of the print ad showed a line drawing of a Jeep on a city block. Its thought bubble suggested it was dreaming of itself on a dirt road surrounded by trees. 

Rarely off-road

"People tend to look as you like an outdoorsy type," said a light truck owner. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Hull pointed out that market research showed 95 per cent of light truck owners never used them for "rugged driving."

A car salesman said doctors, lawyers and company presidents counted among his light truck clients, even though they never used the four-wheel drive feature. The prestige was what appealed to them, he said.

And a long-haired sunglasses-wearing man behind the wheel of an open truck agreed with Hull's assessment that light trucks were "the sports car equivalent of the 1980s."

"That what it projects, doesn't it?" he said. "It's always for the ladies, let me tell you. Always. The ladies love it."   

"They never will use four-wheel drive, but it's prestigious," said auto dealership sales manager Ross North. (Venture/CBC Archives)