As the size of the new car and van markets declined in 2017, the pick-up sector defied the trends and grew year-on-year.

Demand for pick-up trucks has been growing year-on-year for some time now, and a good reason for this is the wide appeal of these vehicles. Once the preserve of utility operators, construction companies, the Forestry Commission and other businesses in need of go anywhere 4×4 load-lugging workhorses, they have also become an alternative lifestyle vehicle for anyone with an outdoor pursuit requiring ample payload and towing capability.

There’s also a growing number of buyers in the market who simply prefer the individuality of running a pick-up rather than a car or van. This trend has been helped by new-generation models boasting more car-like driving dynamics, an important consideration and a welcome contrast to pick-ups of old that would loosen your fillings on anything but the smoothest of road surfaces.

The sea change here has been the introduction of independent multi-link rear suspension, rather than traditional leaf springs, on some models such as the popular Nissan Navara and even more budget models like the SsangYong Musso. This makes for a more forgiving car-like drive, especially when it’s working hard with a load onboard.

Pick-ups are also better equipped than ever before. While most purchases will be made for the rugged exterior image, buyers are also attracted by the high levels of cosseting, previously more akin to an upmarket 4×4 car. Pick-ups now boast pretty much every creature comfort from climate control, leather trim and heated seats to cruise control, Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, touchscreen infotainment and reversing camera.

The strength of the market has been boosted by the wide choice of vehicles from established pickup brands, including Toyota and Nissan, to newcomers such as Fiat and now Mercedes-Benz.

Britain’s growing love affair with the pick-up has made it the biggest market in Europe, so with this in mind The Van Expert looks at issues to consider if you’re buying a pick-up.

Mitsubishi L200 on beach
A growing number of buyers are using pick-ups for both work and leisure

Are all pick-up models a standard size?

Pretty much. The default size in the UK is the one-tonne medium-sized pick-up, not to be confused with their gas-guzzling iconic 3.5-tonne American counterparts which can be sourced from specialist importers such as Clive Sutton, based in North London, or David Boatwright in Essex, amongst many others.

For UK tastes the one-tonne is generally big enough for most needs, with the options being a two-door, two-seater single cab or four-door, five-seater double cab. The latter is particularly popular with buyers, as they can serve as a working vehicle during the week and meet family requirements at the weekend.

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What are the business considerations?

One of the reasons for the pick-up’s ongoing popularity is their relative tax friendliness. They are classed as vans by HMRC which means operators can reclaim VAT back on them, if they are only used for business. The key to remember here is that the vehicle’s weight must be at least one tonne, without a hardtop, to qualify.

One of the big growth areas in recent years has been for company car drivers taking advantage of the lower rate of benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax levied on double cabs that can be used instead of cars.

Rather than having the BIK rate calculated according to the level of CO2 emissions, as they are with company cars, double cabs are charged at a flat rate.

So for the for the 2017/18 tax year, the BIK value for pickups is fixed at £3,230. If you pay tax at the lower rate of 20%, that equates to just £646 for the year (or £53.83 a month). If you pay at the higher rate of 40%, it works out at £1,292 for the year (or £107.67 a month).

No wonder double cabs, especially those boasting more lifestyle-orientated trims, have become so popular. Once fitted with a removable hardtop cover they are effectively a large SUV.

What are the towing considerations?

SsangYong Musso pick-up (The Van Expert)
Most models will have a maximum towing capacity of 3.0-3.5 tonnes

Towing capability is an absolute essential for most business needs and an important consideration for many private buyers too.

Most new pick-ups offer at least 3,000kg braked towing capacity with many of the latest-generation models boasting the maximum limit of 3,500kg.

However, an important consideration here is the vehicle’s gross combination mass (GCM) or gross train weight (GTW); the combined maximum that the pick-up, trailer and total contents in both can weigh.

This figure can be found in the vehicle’s specification data and is an important consideration for anyone requiring heavy load-lugging capabilities, as it determines what can be carried and towed safely.

It’s worth noting that once the GCM is factored in, there are no pick-up models that can pull their full towing capacity AND carry their maximum payload at the same time. So, in this instance, it is definitely worth considering vehicles with the 3,500kg towing capacity to get more bang for your bucks.

What are the must-have accessories?

Definitely a towbar if you plan to take advantage of your pick-up’s towing ability. Otherwise the main essential is a bed liner to protect the cargo bay; regardless of what you put in the back, you will need to safeguard the paintwork from dings and scratches.

Choose a removable bed liner and you can take it out when you come to sell your pick-up and impress prospective buyers with its pristine condition, and therefore achieve a higher resale price.

Otherwise, depending on what you plan to use the pickup for, it’s worth investing in a cover for your load bay. The options here are many and varied, but the basic choice is between a retractable tonneau cover, which extends along the top of the truck bed, or a removable hardtop canopy which effectively transforms the rear into a van.

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Which new vehicles should I look out for?

In terms of variety, there’s never been a better time to buy a pickup. Recent product launches have seen the showroom appearance of new versions of popular favourites, from the iconic Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi L200 to the Nissan Navara. The Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Amarok and Isuzu D-Max have also been re-equipped and facelifted over that last 18 months or so.

Also, the growing trend amongst manufacturers to collaborate, behind the scenes, on new products has seen the debut of new brands to the sector. The Fiat Fullback is closely based on the Mitsubishi L200 and the super-luxurious Mercedes-Benz X-Class uses the underpinnings of the Nissan Navara. Indeed, the Navara also serves as the basis for sister brand Renault’s new Alaskan pick-up.

Meanwhile, SsangYong is preparing to launch a new version of the Musso, a model that promises to continue the Korean’s brand’s ability to punch above its weight by delivering cost-effective alternatives to the mainstream. What we do know about the model is that it will be launched in mid-2018 and it’s based on the latest Rexton SUV.

There’s also the prospect of the PSA brands – Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall – entering the sector in the future as the result of a joint development deal with Chinese carmaker ChangAn Automobile, although a UK right-hand drive launch for any of these models is likely to be a long way off.

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Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and has been a senior motoring journalist for over 25 years. He has written extensively about the automotive industry as editor of both Company Car and Motor Trader where he won the coveted Newspress Business Publication of the Year Award. His work also appears in Fleet World and Fleet World International. In 2016 he was part of the founding team behind the relaunched London Motor Show.

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