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Why don’t European tradesmen use pickup trucks? As best as I can tell from what I read, European tradesmen use a mixture of small vans and one ton (and up) trucks. The half ton and three quarter ton pickup trucks that are widely used in America are almost unheard of in Europe. Why is this?

This question has been really bothering me lately. It seems like somebody somewhere should have come up with a reasonably good answer by now. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.

I think the main obstacle to the serious study of this question is the fact that everyone thinks that the answer is obvious. If I were to ask any economist that question, they would tell me that the answer was “high gas prices and narrow streets” without even stopping to think. But while this answer is perfectly fine for explaining why your average European consumer does not drive a truck, it does not explain why the trades do not make more use of pickup trucks in Europe.

To state the problem as simply as possible: High gas prices and narrow streets should pressure tradesmen to use the smallest possible vehicle. But given the vehicles that European tradesmen are reported to use it would seem that they are using vehicles that are too big for the job on a regular basis. As best as I can tell from what I read, Europeans will use a one ton flat bed for a job that could be done by a half ton pickup truck. This does not square with the idea that they should feel immense pressure to use the smallest possible truck.

The idea that a half ton or three quarter ton pickup truck is the most gas efficient vehicle for many trade jobs is a hard sell in some circles. So many people nowadays are buying these trucks for reasons that have nothing to do with economics that they have become a symbol of excess. This obscures the fact that American tradesmen (as opposed to the general consumer) generally use the most economically efficient vehicle to do their job.

After all, American tradesmen have to compete with their fellow tradesmen on price. If they should choose to drive an inefficient vehicle they have made it that much harder to make a living. Thus, most American plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs, and related trades drive vans just like their European counterparts do. But most American landscapers, roofers, general contractors, and other such trades drive pickup trucks.

The reason for this division is obvious to anyone who is familiar with the trades. For many trades, it is incredibly awkward to work out of a van. Vans just don’t have the same kind of flexibility that a pickup truck has.

The real mystery is why there is no similar division in Europe. High gas prices cannot be the only reason, unless you can come up with some magical reason for why high gas prices should cause you to need one ton trucks but never half ton trucks. But I cannot think of a reason for why this would be so.

For example, on small jobs it is almost always cheaper to get the supplies yourself than to have the hardware stores deliver the stuff to you, even factoring in the price of your labor and gas. This is because the hardware stores deliver with a one ton truck or larger. It only stands to reason that if you can get the stuff with a half ton truck you will save money. In my experience, this hold true regardless of gas prices. It is always cheaper to use a half ton truck instead of a one ton truck if you can get away with it.

So how come Europeans never use half ton pickup trucks?

I have done some thinking on the issue and I have come up with some theories for why European trades would have less of a need for pickup trucks than the American trades. But these theories do not tell me why it is practically unheard of for the European trades to use pickup trucks.

For example, the high price of gas would cut down on the number of pickup trucks that were economically efficient to operate. Let us say that you only have a few times a month where you need a half ton truck. Let us say that you will get x amount of dollars if you have the use of a half ton truck in those situations. Now, normally you can get away with using a more gas efficient van.

If you can only afford to keep one vehicle on the road, the price of gas is going to make all the difference. If the extra cost of running the half ton truck exceeds the value of x you would be a fool to get one. But the flip side of this is that there should be plenty of people willing to rent a truck.

After all, you should still want to capture x dollars, you just don’t want to carry the cost of a pickup truck for the whole month. In an efficient market, trucks would be offered for rent so that you could capture x dollars without having to own the truck.

Yet from what I have read, nobody is offering pickup trucks for rent in European countries. On the other hand, the American economy operates just like the theory would seem to indicate. Many of the big home improvement stores and U-haul stores have pickup trucks that you can rent. Why is there this difference?

I have also thought about how the differences in the housing stock might reduce the demand for half ton pickup tucks. As I understand it, more people live in multi-family dwellings in Europe than in the States. This would mean that the scale of a new construction project would be bigger than in the States. Maybe this means that the demand for one ton and up trucks is greater than it would be in the States?

But my brief experience in commercial construction leads me to believe that this is not the case. I worked for a company that built commercial buildings that had two company-owned pickup trucks. Both of those trucks were used heavily. We did acquire a van (because I wrecked one of the trucks) but it was considered unsatisfactory by everyone involved.

I could go on and on with the various theories that I have considered and why I have rejected them. But this post is already getting overly long for an ape man post. It is sufficient to say that I can understand why Europe might use less pickups than America. But I cannot understand why they don’t seem to use any pickup trucks at all.

To me, the situation in Europe seems as absurd as working in the trades without a circular saw. Sure you can do it, but why in the world would you want to?

I wish someone would look into this question because I suspect that the answer to this question has a wider application then merely satisfying my curiosity. But I am not sure what this wider application is. Does it have to do with some lesson about regulation? About culture? About geography (which I think explains why the Australians use the Ute instead of a proper pickup truck)?

A good question is only a good question if you have no clue about what the possible answer might be.

5 Responses to “Why don't European tradesmen use pickup trucks?”

  1. on 11 Feb 2007 at 9:45 amRuminate

    Cowboys, and Rednecks.

    Wrong cachet. A Frenchman who would buy a pickup truck might vote for Bush. Terrorists drive them too. Too farfetched for Marketing to consider ? American lawyers have been known to screen potential jurors based on whether or not they drive them. Say, what if that profession (lawyers in America) compares better with the cultural sensibilities of the European stereotype I am suggesting? How many lawyers drive pickups ?

  2. on 11 Jul 2011 at 11:05 pmplease don't judge us, we are not all the same

    i am not a cowboy or a redneck, i drive a pickup truck, why, the roads in my area are horrible, they wreak havoc on cars and their suspension. i don’t drive much, the extra fuel bill for my truck about offsets the extra maintenance such as wheel alignments on a car. my truck will outlast most cars. just to piss some people off, my truck has a 5.3 litre v8, lots of power for when i get on the highway. if the roads were better i would drive a ford fiesta. i would rather get into an accident in my 5000 pound truck than in a 2000 pound car, i walk out, they usually don’t.

  3. on 14 Jan 2012 at 4:52 pmwelshchippy

    in my opinion european tradesmen dont use them for reason of security and protection, for tools and materials, protection from thieves and the elements, and for me the thought of taking the cover off to access your tools everyday, and when its raining they still get wet, i am a carpenter with a small buisness and here it doesnt really matter how big or small your delivery is, the cost is around 30 euros, for example it is cheaper and sometime faster for me to wait for delivery rather than me spending maybe 2 hours on the road plus fuel and no work is getting done, plus the customer pays delivery costs, which is also cheaper for them to a delivery driver than it is for them to pay a tradesman, all pick ups i know of are owned by contractor foremen and company owners, personally i think its a status thing, you know like the man with a low level of self esteem gets a big car/truck like the guy who knows he cant fight walks with a pitbull etc, but generally i think its habit/culture, security and element protection, also we get a lot of unwanted calls of request to rent our company vechiles for the day/weekend, a service we dont even advertise, hope this helps you, let me know if you have any questions, regards your fellow tradesman

  4. on 14 Jan 2012 at 6:50 pmape man

    Thanks for the reply. Certainly many tradesman over here use vans for the same reasons that you describe (security and cover from elements). But almost no carpenter over here has a van. Your comment helps me understand part of the reason why. I could not get a hardware store to deliver me anything for the equivalent of 30 euros. I just checked and the nearest Lowe’s charges $75 for a delivery (unless it is for a big expensive item, then it is free). Even allowing for difference in exchange rate, I think that is more than you guys pay. What’s more, fuel is much more expensive for you guys. So the cost benefit ratio for waiting on a delivery is much greater.

    So now I wonder why it is cheaper for you guys to get a delivery than it is for us. Maybe the distances between stores are not as great? Ironically, Lowes will rent you a pickup truck. In fact, I think in a lot of cases it is cheaper to rent a pickup truck from them than it is to pay them to deliver. Of course, that is not accounting for the cost to time.

  5. on 24 Jan 2012 at 1:52 amTommy Boy

    All of the reasoning here is circling around tradesmans use of pickups. What about produce farmers and fish marketers? Salt spreading snow plows, Tire service trucks, trailer pulling, Livestock (horses, cows pigs etc), manure, dirt-sand-gravel, Hay, off road utility-pipeline-fencing work, crane load equipment, pianos, I could go on. The same Japanese pickups that flood the streets in USA are economical, small, and tuff as nails. The Japanese use even smaller and more economical cab over pickups we can’t legaly drive on the streets in the USA. It’s just good business logic. It has nothing to do with being a redneck, but everything to do with sound wisdom.

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