Call it The Battle of Tailgate.
This week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram launched another salvo at the truck market, making its dazzling, 60-40 split tailgate even more versatile with a companion, retractable step. Unlike conventional drop gates, the Ram 1500’s tailgate opens outward like a barn door allowing easier fork-lift pallet access to the bed — or easier individual access via a pop-out step.
The full-size truck’s innovation was the latest weapon in a battle begun by Ford Motor Co. over a decade ago with its Tailgate step — recently eclipsed by the General Motors Co. GMC Sierra’s jaw-dropping (literally, check out the ads), six-function Multi-Pro gate.
Once upon a time, the Detroit Three pickup wars were about who could tow more. But today, with pickup sales earning big profits at over 3 million units sold a year, skirmishes are breaking out all over the truck — not just under its hood.
The trick tailgate clash follows pitched battles over best interior, most creative bed, coolest console, and best super truck.
“Every truckmaker is looking for some away to set themselves apart,” said Roman Mica, publisher of The Fast Lane Truck, a leading truck benchmarking website. “So now we have a tailgate battle.”
Combined with the $395 retractable step available via Ram’s Mopar parts subsidiary, the $995 Multifunction tailgate is a cheaper option than the GMC Sierra’s Multi-Pro tailgate which is only available on upper trim models starting around $45,000. But it probably won’t bring your neighbor running for a demo. The six-way Multi-Pro has wowed truck buyers with its button-operated, six-way versatility: 1) tailgate drop, 2) long-board load stop, 3) second-tier, board load stop, 4) work surface, 5) walk-in standing desk, 6) bed-entry stairs.
GMC’s Multi-Pro ads — with jaws and tailgates dropping in awe as a GMC Sierra rolls by — have been a staple of weekend football games.
The Ram’s two-way tailgate not only opens to an 88-degree angle for easier forklift loading — but it also drops like a normal tailgate. The pop-out bed step is mounted under the middle of the rear bumper for easy bed access when the barn door opens. The retractable step is also available with a regular tailgate — swinging out from the driver’s side, rear-bumper corner.
“Our retractable bed step further enhances the convenience and utility of Ram’s industry-leading cargo management system,” said Mopar parts chief Mark Bosanac.
Ram’s innovation leaves Ford trailing its cross-town rivals, which is ironic since TFL Truck’s Mica said Ford started the tailgate battle.
“The F-150 has had a tailgate step for years,” he said. “And to be fair, the Honda Ridgeline (midsize pickup) pioneered the swing gate before Ram.”
Ford’s Tailgate step was re-engineered in 2014 to fully disappear into the tailgate when not in use. The tailgate package includes a grab handle that pops out to help with bed access. That’s so 15 minutes ago. Ford is now reportedly working on its own multi-function tailgate for the F-150.
Ram’s news comes on the heels of its success in the console battle. Its 12-inch, Tesla-like screen wowed in 2018.
“Interiors used to be Plain Jane,” said Mica colleague, Andre Smirnov at TFLTruck. “Then Ram blew everyone out of the water with an interior worthy of a BMW 7-series or a BMW S-class.”
Ford responded with its “table console” in the forthcoming, 2021 F-150 — which boasts innovations like a stowable, electronic gear shifter to clear a flat, interior work surface.
Territory aft of the front cabin has become a battleground, too. Ram offers sub-floor storage bins, GMC and Chevy Silverado have carved out hidden cubbies in the second-row seatbacks, and the 2021 Ford introduces lockable storage underneath the seats.
Further aft, the pickup bed became a high-profile showdown between F-150 and Silverado when Ford introduced the first aluminum truck in 2015. Chevy tried to puncture Ford’s bubble — literally — with an ad dropping a toolbox into the F-150’s bed to punch holes in the tin.
More recently Silverado laid claim to the segment’s biggest bed. Not to be outdone, Ram boasts the pickup war’s only bed-side toolboxes — called RamBox Cargo Management System.
Detroit’s three automakers have not forgotten about the engine bay.
Each model cycle seems to bring a new champ when it comes to clean-and-jerking the most weight. For 2020, the Silverado leads the field at 13,400 pounds towing — 2,543 pounds payload in the bed. F-150 is next with 13,200 pounds of towing — 3,270 pounds payload. Then Ram 1500 at 12,750 pounds and 2,500 payload.
All three makers vie for best fuel economy with diesel engines offerings. Chevy leads by a nose with 27 mpg versus Ram’s 26 and Ford’s 24.
When fuel economy is the least of your concerns, a battle is brewing on the “super truck” front. Like the horsepower wars of Mustang vs. Camaro vs. Challenger, pickups are pawing the ground.
Ford innovated the segment with the Baja Desert-eating, 450-horsepower Raptor. Ram is countering in 2021 with its own prehistoric predator, the TRX (pronounced T-Rex) stuffed with a 702-horse Hellcat engine.
And where Ford and Ram are, GM can’t be far behind.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.