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Pickup trucks gain ground


CHICAGO -- Consider the pickup, a workhorse given little respect.

Popular culture has long perpetuated images of the pickup as the favorite mode of transportation for the National Rifle Association member, civil rights opponent, survivalist, Ku Klux Klan supporter and stereotypes of the rural inhabitant. Good only for toting hay or wooden crates -- or shotguns.

No longer. Some 2,000 miles eastward in Detroit -- not to mention in Japan -- auto executives, demographic researchers and marketers know better.

They know that, for many in the mainstream and members of what Vice President Dan Quayle has branded the "cultural elite," it's hip to have a pickup, or at least one of its hybrids.

"If you go back to 1960, a truck was a truck. It was the construction worker or the hayseed who drove a truck. You bought it for work and nothing else," said John McElroy, editor-in-chief of Automotive Industries, a trade journal.

"That has changed. In the '90s, people buy small pickups to make a statement about themselves. People don't have any problem driving around in a truck as an everyday vehicle," Mr. McElroy said.

Socialites have been seen hopping out of Chevrolet Blazers outside of the opera. Women cruise around in Ford Explorers, and many men are opting for Ford Rangers. Even the smart set in Aspen prefers trucks.

The growing popularity of full-size, mid-size and compact pickups is evident on highways -- and on spreadsheets in Detroit and Japan. Their presence has increased to one out of three vehicles on the road in 1990 from one out of six in 1960.

For people who enjoy camping and other outdoor trips, buying a pickup as the second family car seems like the best solution.

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