Light trucks or pickup trucks were first introduced in Thailand by the US Army, which was stationed at various airports in the Kingdom.
The vehicles were purely American brands such as Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Dodge, etc.
It was only in 1970 that Datsun introduced a small pickup truck with a 1,200cc 4-cylinder gasoline engine, which looked like pickup trucks sold today. Nissan later introduced a larger body but still used a small gasoline engine, and it quickly became the most popular pickup truck in the Thai market. The pickup remained in production for many years, while there were also competitors such as Toyota Hilux, Mazda Proceed and Daihatsu, which was very strong in the Chiang Mai public transport market.
In 1974, Isuzu introduced the Elf at the same time as the Chevrolet Luv. They were powered by a 4-cylinder overhead valve diesel engine with a swirl chamber and a displacement of 1,600cc. They did not gain much in popularity, but once Nissan developed a diesel engine and equipped its pickup nicknamed “Elephant Step” with it, and due to the Nissan commercials that featured a live elephant stepping on the truck to show its durability and weight capability, the popularity of diesel-powered pickup trucks started to grow.
The body size of pickup trucks grew along the years, and they were labelled “1-tonne” pickups.
In the past, there was competition in two segments – the standard 4-hook pickup bed and the extended 5-hook pickup bed (the hooks on the bed are for securing cargo in place).
At the same time, Sermsuk, the manufacturer of Pepsi in Thailand, ordered a fleet of Holden vehicles which had a flat rear cargo area and was a mix between a passenger car and a truck. It was easy to load and unload things on the vehicles and we called them pickups. The term is still being used today even for light trucks.
In legal terms, it has always been referred to by the government as the 1-tonne pickup truck, although the details have changed a number of times since the body, engine and drive system have evolved along with market requirements.
According to the law today, a pickup must have three separate parts – a truck head, a pickup bed and the chassis. The dimensions and weight have increased, with the maximum weight being limited to 1,600kgs.
However, in reality, it is well known that if we weigh any 1-tonne pickup truck, it would be heavier than 1,600kgs. Thus, there is another effort from the industry to raise the official legal weight limit to a more realistic 2,200kgs. The regulation should be passed before the end of the year.
If the legal weight of pickups is raised to 2,200kgs, the automobile market will change considerably, since it is easy to equip the vehicles with additional features that close the gap between trucks and passenger cars.
These 1-tonne pickups could become as comfortable and convenient as passenger
cars such as the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. Sales of pickups could expand into
the city and steal market share from passenger cars.
The scenario will be clear once the new regulation is passed. Apart from Ford and Mazda – both featuring 5-cylinder 3,200cc engines – we’ll have to see whether any other auto-maker will launch new vehicles in the near future.
Some manufacturers may even want to break into a new segment by developing and offering a small pickup for use in the city. This will also change the face of the Thai pickup market, which is considered the world’s largest 1-tonne market.