Large pickup truck sales have been on fire for years now. Hot, hot, hot.

Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS

So blistering, you might be tempted to think that every skilled trades worker in Canada is driving a new Ram, or Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan or Toyota Tundra. Indeed, Statistics Canada says we have about 1.1 million plumbers, electricians, carpenters, millwrights and the like on the job, while Canadians bought about 1.0 million full-size rigs during the last three years.

But not every person swinging a hammer or twisting a wrench is chugging around in a new or nearly-new rig. Instead, what’s happened is this: big pickups have become the luxury vehicle of choice for the super-rich – people earning more than $200,000 or even more than $500,000 a year.

2017 Ram 1500 Rebel

The researchers at MaritzCX tell us this, and some basic sales numbers illustrate the point. Last year in Canada, Ford sold 145,409 F-Series pickups, or 3.5 times the total number of vehicles Mercedes-Benz Canada moved off dealer lots during the same period.

Here is something else to ponder. The F-Series is Canada’s best-selling vehicle by far, nearly 2.5 times as popular as the lowly Honda Civic. Canada’s favourite luxury vehicle is the Audi Q5, a compact luxury SUV (sport-utility vehicle) snapped up by 8,313 Canadians. Point is, pickups are a HUGE and lucrative business.

2017 Ram 1500 Rebel

Indeed, the typical full-size pickup today is priced like a luxury car and equipped like one, too. Consider the Ram 1500 Rebel Crew Cab 4×4. As tested, that Ram stickers for $69,020, including destination ($1,795), or twice the average transaction price ($35,000) of a new vehicle sold in Canada, notes J.D. Power and Associates.

If you’re buying a $70,000 vehicle, you’re driving a luxury ride.  If it’s the Ram 1500 Rebel here, it has tough-guy stuff like tow hooks, lockable Ram Boxes, a Class IV hitch receiver and a spray-in bedliner. But it also has leather seats, a terrific infotainment system run through an 8.4-inch colour touchscreen. Navigation? Sure. Nine Alpine speakers capable of making your ears bleed? Absolutely. Backup camera? Never a doubt.

The all-new 2017 F-150 Raptor

Obviously car companies are making huge profits selling pickup – perhaps as much as $17,000 on every sale, or more. Indeed, last year 344,559 Canadians bought a full-size pickup like the Ram – and 89,048 actually went for a Ram, notes DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

All this explains why Mercedes-Benz plans to launch a luxury pickup later this year. It’ll look something like Merc’s Concept X-CLASS study recently unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. Merc says the production version of its concept will have all the hallmarks of a Ram or an F-Series – tough, functional, strong, and with off-road capability – but with the cachet of a rig wearing a three-pointed star.

Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS interor

Merc might make a success of its coming pickup, but it won’t be easy. Overall, Edmunds found that about 70 per cent of pickup buyers stay loyal to their brand, time after time after time. If you’re a Ram guy, you’re very likely a Ram guy for life. And so on. Pickup owners are extraordinarily loyal.

But this expanding wave of new and extraordinarily wealthy pickup buyers might be open to a Mercedes rig. We’ll see.

Detroit’s automakers aren’t waiting to find out. They hold a 90-plus per cent share of the full-size pickup market and don’t plan to surrender even one sale without a sweaty fight. That’s why Ram Rebels and Ford Raptors are loaded with high-end features once found only in a Merc or a BMW.

The all-new 2017 F-150 Raptor

The challenge ahead isn’t in features, however. Design is. Designers will tell you that they can do only so much with the “two-box” platform of a pickup. Indeed, the last great pickup design innovation was the return of drop-down front fenders in the Ram of the early 1990s.

Merc is new to the pickup game and now has a chance to prove that it can be a world leader in pickup design. Will the production version of Merc’s Concept X-CLASS study create a sensation, or will Mercedes pull on the reins and deliver another “me-too” pickup with only tarted-up sheetmetal?

2017 Ram 1500 Rebel

The X-CLASS suggests the latter. We’ll know the final answer in just a few months.

2016 large pickup sales in Canada

Ford F-Series                 145,409

Ram                                   89,048

GMC Sierra                      51,091

Chevrolet Silverado        44,932

Toyota Tundra                 11,364

Nissan Titan                       2,715

– Source: DesRosiers Automotive Consultants

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