DALLAS — Ten years ago, a big pickup sporting fancy red leather seats would have shocked the boys down at the feed store.
And they flatly would not have believed that any truck could “kneel” to allow its driver to enter more easily.
But both features can be found on new luxury pickups from Ford and Ram.
The growing niche of $50,000 pickups — replete with polished wood trim, custom leather interiors and 20-inch wheels — is becoming increasingly important to automakers.
These high-end, city-slicker pickups — at least 14 models are now available — represent far more than just some glitzy industry anomaly. They can generate $15,000 or more in profit, boosting revenue in a segment whose sales have dropped more than 25 percent since 2008, analysts say.
Ford planted the seed for the niche more than a decade ago with its first four-door, crew-cab pickup, which then led to the specialty Harley-Davidson edition of the F-150 in 1999. Crew cabs provided room for a family or five adults, making pickups more practical as well as more carlike. They also opened the door for a vast array of comfort features.
Luxury trucks get snapped up by successful contractors who use the plush haulers as offices and want to convey a well-heeled image to potential clients.
Affluent horse people buy them as flashy, comfortable tow-vehicles for $100,000 trailers and $20,000 horses.
And then there are the lawyers, doctors, executives and entrepreneurs who trade their BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes for luxury trucks on the weekend so they can tow big boats, classic cars and racing vehicles.