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Forbes.com ranks the Dodge Ram SRT-10 as one of the best pickups of the year.
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updated 5/24/2004 4:45:57 PM ET 2004-05-24T20:45:57

We should all consider ourselves lucky to live in a time in which Dodge decided to stuff the Viper's V-10 engine into a full-size, rear-drive Ram pickup, thus combining the nation's most evil sports car with its favorite type of vehicle.

Drive the Dodge Ram SRT-10, the most powerful pickup on the market, and you will feel like Captain America. Indeed, pickups in general are a particularly American vehicle. No other country has nearly the same affinity or market for pickups, in large part because Americans simply have a lot of space in which to drive them.

Dodge Ram advertisements in the last year have included this slogan: "Only the seat belts show restraint." Indeed, the Ram and particularly the Ram SRT-10 are over-the-top in just about every way. They have comically aggressive front-end styling and extraordinarily high floors that make it hard just to climb into the vehicles. They are unwieldy on the road. Even on highways that aren't crowded, to change lanes in a Ram is to command all the maneuverability of a World War II cargo plane. Try to imagine parking one of these in Paris and you'll understand why pickups tend to stay in the States.

In America, the only places in which one suffers for driving large vehicles are San Francisco and New York, where pickups and sport utility vehicles have to pay extra at parking lots. The rest of the country loves vehicular largesse, as proven by the fact that Ford Motor's F-Series pickup has been America's best-selling vehicle for 22 years. In fact, through April 30, the top three selling vehicles in the United States this year have been pickups: the F-Series, General Motors' Chevrolet Silverado and the Ram, in that order.

No wonder, then, that if you work at an American car company and hope to climb the ranks, veterans will advise you to seek employment on any truck project, and to avoid being assigned to small cars at all costs. That makes perfect sense: Why work on small American cars, most of which struggle to make money, when you could gravitate toward trucks, the honey pot of the American auto business? An executive assigned to supervise a small American car project is ordinarily an executive on the slide.

In fact, American small cars have to work to keep up with pickups, which generally have nicer interiors and more features. In an interview last October, Lloyd Hansen, Ford's vice president for revenue management, outlined how the company plans to improve its passenger cars, which are missing out on the sort of revenues experienced by trucks: use the large amount of features and content in trucks as a model for how the small cars ought to be, and send some appealing truck features into the small cars. In other words, the small cars may have value, but they don't have as much content as the trucks — and the trucks are cleaning house.

Asked in March if he thought Ford went too far by putting what is essentially a luxury interior on its flagship F-150 Lariat pickup, Gary White, GM's vehicle line executive for full-size trucks, said, "We don't think they went far enough. I think you will be shocked when you see what the interiors are going to look like on our next full-size trucks."

The upcoming round of trucks to which White referred is an enormous project for GM. Before 2008, the company plans to redo its entire full-size truck portfolio — pickups and sport utilities. Everything will be new on the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Yukon and all other full-size GM trucks and SUVs.

The American auto makers are serious about keeping their trucks fresh. The result is a pickup market that caters to all kinds of personalities with all kinds of vehicles — perhaps too many.

"As good as we are, and as much differentiation as we have between the vehicles, at some point there are too many models," said Tom Wallace, GM's vehicle line executive for small and midsize trucks. Wallace and White, speaking together in March, said that GM trucks in the near future will be derivatives of existing nameplates, not new ones. This means that there won't be, for example, a Buick pickup anytime soon, because the market is already pretty crowded.

You would think that pickups would not vary as much from model to model as they do; after all, how many ways can you rearrange a cab and a bed? Well, because that question interests us, we assembled a list of this year's best pickups based on personality types, not price brackets.

Take a look at the variety of attitudes pickups can display — there's one for every occasion.

Don't feel ashamed to wax patriotic in the process. That 500-horsepower Ram pickup would only come about under stars and stripes.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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