DETROIT — Heated and cooled seats. Backup cameras. Panoramic glass roofs.
Not exactly what springs to mind when you think of a pickup. But that's what American truck buyers increasingly want, spending an average of $46,844 on a pickup, according to Kelley Blue Book. That's more than the starting price of luxury SUVs like the Mercedes GLC or the Lexus RX. In 2016, pickup trucks made up a little more than a third of all vehicles that sold for over $50,000.
At the State Fair of Texas this month, Ford Motor Co. is displaying its most expensive pickup yet: The F-Series Super Duty Limited, a luxury heavy-duty truck with a starting price of $80,835. It has custom two-tone leather seats, a heated steering wheel wrapped in hand-stitched leather and high-tech features like a 360-degree camera system that guides drivers when they're hitching up a trailer.
A fully-loaded F-450 — the biggest version of the Super Duty — will top out at $94,455. It's capable of towing an Air Force F-35 fighter plane, but it also has massaging seats.
Fiat Chrysler's Ram brand is also showing luxury pickups at the fair. The 2018 Laramie Longhorn Southfork edition has a walnut-trimmed steering wheel and 4G Wi-Fi capability. The Heavy Duty Lone Star Silver — sold only in Texas — has a luxurious bright chrome grille. Both start around $50,000 and will be available later this fall.
On a recent visit to the fair, some visitors balked at the prices. One said he's rather buy a Mercedes S-Class if he had $80,000 to spare. But others took the high prices in stride.
"It's awesome. I'd love to be going down the road in it right now," said Paul Churchill as he sat in the cab of the Super Duty Limited. "If you're looking for all the technology they have in these trucks now, it's probably worth it."
Demand for luxury trucks is strong. Ford says around half of the individual buyers who purchase Super Duty trucks opt for one of its three luxury versions — King Ranch, Lariat or Platinum. The Limited version will sit at the top of that heap.
Kendall Bachman, who works for an executive search firm in the renewable energy industry, paid $40,000 in 2013 for a limited edition 2011 Toyota Tundra CrewMax that's upholstered in leather from San Antonio-based Lucchese Boot Co.
Bachman, of Redding, California, needed a truck to tow his fishing boat and camping trailer and haul lumber and landscaping materials for his 3-acre property. He also wanted something big to protect his four kids and leather that could withstand stains.
At the same time, Bachman wanted his truck to convey status.
"I wanted something that embodied who I am more than a luxury sedan, but that would still allow me to feel comfortable attending meetings for business people in town who drive luxury cars," Bachman said.
The luxury trend has helped pickups outpace the industry in terms of the prices they command. So far this year, the average vehicle is selling for $34,671, up 38 percent from 2005. The average price of a full-size truck has jumped 54 percent in that same period, to $46,844.
Ford kicked off the luxury truck trend in 1999 when it introduced the Harley-Davidson F-Series. The King Ranch edition followed in 2001. General Motors Co. brought out its high-end GMC Sierra Denali pickup in 2002; the Chevrolet Silverado High Country followed in 2014. The Ram Laramie Longhorn arrived in 2010.
Todd Eckert, Ford's truck group marketing manager, stressed that Ford is still meeting the needs of buyers who want an everyday work truck. The base model of the 2018 Super Duty starts at $32,890. But he said some customers are also demanding more comfort and safety technology, like forward collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control.
"They have come to a point where they want to reward themselves," Eckert said. The Super Duty Limited goes on sale this winter.
Rebecca Lindland, an executive analyst with Kelley Blue Book, says luxury truck buyers cut across age spans but share a mindset. They could buy a German luxury car, she says, but they want the blue-collar brawn of an American truck — or, in Toyota's case, a full-size truck built in Texas.
"These are people with money. These are people who have been very successful," she said. "All they want is the most tarted-up pickup they can buy."