Few modern vehicles practically chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as aggressively as a full-size pickup. Still, even America’s best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-150, is sold only in a few places outside of the good ol’ United States of America—officially that is. Blame the higher fuel costs, smaller streets, and greater rates of taxation of other countries. The reality is the template of full-size trucks simply does not translate into volume sales in most markets.
This doesn’t mean those across the pond can’t get import a full-size truck to their shores if they really want one. While Ford might not want to cannibalize sales from its popular Ranger in foreign markets, other automakers have no such small pickups whose sales it needs to protect. No surprise, then, that a brisk business has sprung up around importing another full-size pickup luminary to Europe: the Ram 1500. Thanks to partnerships with local sales outlets, Dodge and Ram sales grew in Europe by nearly 50 percent in 2020.
What’s it like to import a full-size pickup from its American stronghold to countries where Ram 1500s and Chevy Silverados are more exotic than Ferraris and Lamborghinis? And why are Europeans so keen on piloting these enormous land barges through some of the world’s oldest and narrowest roads?
It would be wrong to think that the denizens of Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, and other European countries are living in some kind of truckless void. There are many smaller pickups, and pickup-like SUVs offered for sale in these countries, but these offerings hail from a distinctly more utilitarian side of the spectrum. Forget the leather-lined luxury cruisers found on U.S. dealer lots, as these mid-size models skew toward the basic with limited amenities, easy-to-clean interiors, and modest turbodiesel engines designed to skirt registration costs and offer plentiful torque.
Attempts to gussy up these midsize models have typically been met with indifference (witness the failure of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class). These smaller trucks occupy an important part of the landscape, but their appeal has traditionally been as commercial workhorses, not daily drivers. Nor do European truck owners use their rigs specifically to tow, as wagons, hatchbacks, and compact SUVs are far more often deputized for duty hauling utility trailers and camping caravans.
While some contractors do embrace U.S. metal for their increased cargo capacity and heavy-duty tow ratings, the love showered on brutishly large import pickups usually stems not from need but want. American trucks are valued for their brash personalities, over-the-top capability, and perceived luxury, factors which mainstream European buyers have rejected in their own market but deep-pocketed free-thinkers are willing to pay a considerable premium for. This doesn’t just include the initial purchase price, as owners must pay thousand each year in various taxes and registration fees brought about by their imported pickups’ massive shadows and big engines (the latter of which also makes for some expensive fuel bills).
The process of actually buying a Ram 1500 overseas starts with a visit to an official importer. For Stellantis that’s AEC Europe, which also covers imports of the Dodge Challenger coupe, Charger sedan, and Durango SUV. With 400 sales locations, AEC claims to cover every country in the European Union. It has partnered with Stellantis (previously FCA) since 2011.
The company’s role goes above and beyond what one would typically expect from an import outfit in America. Not only does AEC convert every vehicle it sells to European standards (this includes lighting, emissions, country-specific weight restrictions, and other safety concerns), but it also provides a replacement warranty (via a third party, CarGarantie) that steps in to fill the gap of the voided factory coverage due to the vehicle’s exportation.
It’s largely a plug-and-play process for buyers, who don’t have to deal with any additional inspections or conversions from their respective license bureaus once they’ve picked up their Ram. If you want a custom order, however, be prepared to wait: AEC is willing to work with buyers on individual options and equipment, but it can be a slow process compared to simply choosing from one of its already-imported and warehoused models.
While Ram trucks have proven to be the most popular full-size pickup to import to Europe (thanks in large part to AEC’s reach), it’s certainly not the only option available. Smaller operations, such as AMT American Trucks, provide a full line-up of American-sourced trucks for import, including Ford, Chevrolet, and GMC models. While AMT American Trucks is based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, it will deliver vehicles homologated to meet the specific requirements of several different European counties.
AMT American Trucks also offers a service that can help reduce an owner’s registration burden by increasing the gross vehicle weight rating of specific models to help their big American pickup qualify as a commercial vehicle (this comes with specific tax breaks in some jurisdictions). The company will even add or remove seats, as necessary, to flirt with the letter of the law for buyers eager to reduce the financial impact of owning one of these massive models.
Drive to be Different
Full-size truck sales still account for a small number of overall new vehicle sales in Europe. This makes sense, given these big trucks were never really designed to navigate Europe’s narrow streets.
Still, the heart wants what the heart wants. Just as thousands of Americans yearn for impractical right-hand drive JDM vans and kei cars, many Europeans simply want to drive something that’s outside of their continent’s norms. At least if a European full-size truck buyer can’t find a place to park, they can always just drive off the beaten path and make their own parking space. Try doing that in an Autozam AZ-1.
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