What the Hell Is With Huge Truck Grilles and Bulging Hoods?
Perhaps American men have lost confidence in their own masculinity?
When you walk up to one of Ford's new Super Duty trucks—as I did when I traveled to Colorado to inspect the 2017 lineup—the grille looms mountainous; either dark and ominous, or bright and shiny, depending on whether or not chrome sheathing has been wrapped around the large plastic simile of a smiling bluesman's teeth.
It seems that many members of the truck-buying public enjoy this automotive equivalent of a long, pointy metal codpiece. For half a decade, truckmakers have been steadfastly locked in a huge-chrome-grille-with-corresponding-hood-bulges arms race. What I can't figure out is what came first: John Q. Public's voracious appetite for absurdly large chrome self-announcement placards, or Ansel Automaker's affinity for selling them. It's one of those chicken-and-egg scenarios, I guess.
Ignoring who started it, here's how the whole grille thing began to present itself some years ago: Dodge seems to have touched it off, albeit slowly, in 2002, when it transformed the reasonably-sized faux-big-rig grille on its Ram pickups into a giant snout. In 2009, Ford followed suit with the F-150, even as the Ram grille got even bigger. General Motors didn't catch up until 2014, when it changed an already wide grille into a massive cliff of a feature on its Silverado and Sierra pickups. Toyota merely added size-enhancing louvers and hood bulges atop a more or less normal sized grille. Nissan was a latecomer to the game, but it jumped into the ring like it meant business, introducing its newest Titan pickup with a thrust-forward wall of grille that presented like a puffed-out chest flanked by steroid-bolstered muscles.
"When you see the front of this truck, you know something big is lurking under the hood," seductively declared a promotional video when Nissan introduced the truck at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. See what I mean? Codpiece.
Even before those ridiculous words were uttered, Ford had already turned its own grille dial to 11, replacing the already chunky front end of the F-150 with a design that looked like the gable end of a barn.
So why have we, as a culture, gravitated toward such ludicrous overstatement in our vehicles?
Looking back to the toothy (some would say busty) chrome grilles of the Fifties as the basis of today's gargantuan truck maws would be too easy. We modern Americans are much different in temperament than our post-World War II counterparts. We're not as likely to serve in the military or work manufacturing, construction, mining, and agricultural jobs. We are a nation of healthcare workers, retailers, business professionals, and financiers.
You could say that, collectively, we've become soft.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. In general, we make more money, have more stuff, and eat better than anyone that came before us. But—do you see where I'm going with this?—I think that may be a reason why bulging trucks have become more popular. And I'm not saying it's due to our bulging waistlines (although that's a different train of thought that could be explored). Truck grilles are a cultural Viagra for our flaccid masculinity. If we were all gladiators, or steel mill workers—people who spent all day in bloody combat, or basking in manly-looking industrial steam clouds and intermittent showers of metallic sparks—perhaps we'd all be driving Honda Civic wagovans and Chevy Malibus. Because we'd all be too manly to care about driving giant, expensive, supposedly masculinity-enhancing trucks.
The current craze for man-prefixes in colloquial speech certainly supports this argument. Our silly language now includes such loathsome words as manbag, man bun, mansplain, man cave, mancation, man date, and on and on. (Terrible stuff, really) This suggests that American men, most of whom are neither professional hunter-trappers nor gritty industrial workers (and certainly not both), have lost their sense of masculinity and need other ways to make up for it.
I seriously doubt the big grille craze is driven by women. They're too smart to fall for it.
Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's just that we're American, and after decades of stylistically repressive automobiles (remember the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties? *Shudder*) we just really want to enjoy an aesthetic that's irrational and flamboyant. After all, we are the people who show up in other countries wearing sleeveless shirts, workout clothes, and comfortable shoes, and we've always liked our things to be bigger and flashier than everyone else's.
Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain. When this big grille truck thing is all over, whoever still has them will feel exactly like the folks did who still owned cars with giant tail fins well into the automotively conservative Sixties—either silly and out of style, or as cool as an Elvis impersonator at a Tennessee truck stop.