GMC Sierra HD Denali

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal story detailing the growing demand for luxury heavy-duty pickup trucks. To view the entire article and accompanying photos click here.

Ford Motor Co.’s latest model has plush leather seats, a state-of-the-art infotainment system, gobs of chrome, a heated wooden steering wheel and enough power to haul a trailer of rodeo bulls.

This is America’s exceptional kind of premium vehicle, the luxury heavy-duty pickup truck.

Despite the recent rise in fuel prices, the Detroit Three auto makers — Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC — say demand for these performance vehicles is strong, and they are expanding their trucks’ appeal beyond traditional strongholds in the Southwest.

Besides Platinum editions of Ford’s F-250 and F-350 coming out later this year, GMC has the Sierra HD Denali; Chrysler has the Laramie Longhorn and is launching Laramie Limited versions of Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks. They typically sell for $50,000, $60,000 and up — the same price band as the BMW 5-series, the E Class or the Audi A6.

These trucks have certain attributes in common. Most of them roll off the dealer lot with big V-8 diesel engines for towing power and long-haul efficiency. They can tow trailers that weigh eight tons or more and can cost twice as much as the truck. They consume a lot of fuel, but their owners are affluent and willing to pay the cost to have the unique combination of style and function these vehicles provide.

In a global auto industry dominated by small cars and compact crossover wagons, these are a quintessential American product — right down to the healthy helpings of chrome. Luxury pickup buyers “love chrome,” says Ford truck marketing manager Doug Scott.

Ford executives weren’t sure two or three years ago that a Platinum model would sell if offered on the Super Duty trucks. Then they watched sales of Platinum F-150 models soar to 6% to 7% of total sales, roughly double their initial projections.

“We haven’t found a ceiling to this luxury truck market,” said Scott.

Kenn Bakowski, head of full size truck marketing for GM’s GMC truck brand, says one out of four heavy-duty GMC trucks sold are the luxury Denali models, which start at just over $45,000. GMC positions the Denali as a more subdued alternative to rival Southwestern-themed trucks like the King Ranch, aiming at entrepreneurs and people who live in and around big cities.

“You can go too far,” Bakowski says. “They are not the go-too-far group.”