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Have you noticed how many special edition pickup trucks are on the market this year?

Chevy alone is pushing five—and even more if you count the HD-specific ones. Full-size newcomer Nissan is offering dealer-available equipment that will “personalize” your Titan—as if the new Titan didn’t stand out enough.

Toyota is also doing it, adding to its already popular TRD Pro model. Ram is on board, spring-boarding off the Rebel and regular Ram with multiple grille treatments, hood designs, wheel treatments, and wild colours.

Ford already offers more multi-level trim packages for its F-150 and Super-Duty than its rivals, yet for the 2018 model year it’s pushing four special editions that can be matched to the trim of your choosing. As its advertising says, “it’s about standing out in the pack.”

Of course, “special editions” have been around almost as long as automobiles themselves—it’s an obvious way to drive sales by offering something unique over and above the regular. But the real hook has always been the limited time each is available.

While this sales tactic is not new, the content of these sorts of packages has changed, particularly when it comes to trucks.

In the past, special editions were most often about the mechanicals—upgraded engines, powertrains, and suspensions. The performance is what made those cars stand out, and is what buyers wanted and paid for—in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, they scoffed at the “all-show no-go” versions of today’s iconic collector muscle cars.

Special edition pickups were no exception. Regardless of who built them – you had Dodge’s Warlock; Chevrolet’s Silverado SS; Ford’s Lightning – special edition trucks were all meant to go.

HeapMedia351545 Today, though, the emphasis has shifted to the outward appearance of the truck and its special interior appointments, and the current crop of special editions reflects this trend. Like a peacock fanning its tail for all to see, these trucks are all about showing off.

It’s the new way of standing out as unique—which, admittedly, is what they are, from a looks standpoint, and what their owners want them to be. A truck being fast is much less of priority these days.

Does that mean buyers have matured? Or are the choices of the “selfie generation” spilling into their truck buying tastes?

While I wonder about that one, it’s obvious to me manufacturers have discovered the limited time each special edition is available is what’s really making them saleable. Some series are even numbered, to clearly spell out the temporary nature of their release.

Jim Morrison, head of the Ram brand, knows how the trend works. “Everybody wants something unique and specialized,” says Morrison.

“So what we are offering is one step up from just adding accessories—we’re extending the custom touches to trim and paint, things the factory can do more affordably than customers can.”

When it comes to style-first special editions, Ford was probably one of the first manufacturers to pioneer the space, capitalizing on it by partnering with Harley-Davidson starting in 2000.

I remember when these trucks came out, and was surprised these special editions offered no mechanical upgrades whatsoever. At the time, Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicles Team) was building some great stuff, including the soon-to-be-famous and lightning-fast SVT Lightning pickup.

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In my conversations with those same SVT engineers, it came out that Harley was behind the lack of performance upgrades. They recognized back then it was the “look” that would sell—and they were right. But past the Harley-Davidson tie-in, it seems Ford tapped into the personalization trend that’s now mainstream.

As for where the special edition ideas come from, Morrison says firstly his whole design team is made up of “truck guys,” so they draw inspiration from their own likes. Past that, they take feedback from dealers and spend time scanning reader’s blog posts and customer comments on various Ram enthusiast websites. Seems it’s worthwhile making your wants known on the internet.

Perhaps this custom trend will, in the long run, spawn some very collectible pickups, just like it did rare muscle cars back in the day. Today everyone wants to be unique—why should truck buyers be different?