I was pondering Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle when Sharon Drury called.
Drury handles the mid-Atlantic media test fleet for Ford Motor Co.
Heisenberg was a famous professor of theoretical physics. Loosely, he theorized that you can never be certain of what you see because the act of seeing involves interpretation and measurement, which changes the nature, or at least the perception, of what is seen.
Heisenberg was looking at subatomic particles. Thanks to Drury, I was looking at something substantially larger, the 2001--that's right, 2001--Ford F-150 Lariat SuperCrew pickup.
At least I called it a pickup. My highly esteemed colleague Yuki Noguchi called it "a very large automobile." She wasn't alone. During my 10 days with the SuperCrew, I heard people refer to it as a "wagon," or a "sport-ute," or "an Expedition with a cargo bed."
That's just fine with Ford. The last thing the company wants is for its new, four-door SuperCrew to be seen in the same light as the predecessor, the 1958 International Model A-112 Travelette Utility Pickup, which mostly was viewed as a truck to carry construction crews and their gear.
You don't pay $26,000 to $32,000 for an ordinary work truck. You pay that for a Lariat SuperCrew, which carries six people in carpeted and leathered comfort, bathes them in the luxuriant sound of a premium audio system, and offers them movies via an optional rear-cabin video screen.
Ah, and how many trucks come with standard power-adjustable pedals, which Ford calls "a pickup truck first"?
There is a deliberate blurring of the lines here, an attempt to turn utility into something more elegant. And the public is gobbling it up, so much so that every major automaker is offering, or soon will offer, some variant of what I call the pusute (pickup, sedan, utility) mobiles.
There are, for example, Nissan's Frontier Crew Cab, the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab and Chevrolet's upcoming Avalanche, the latter of which will be distinguished by a midgate--a door in the back of the passenger cabin that opens to the cargo bed.
There is some speculation that Chevy's midgate Avalanche will steal sales from Ford's SuperCrew, and I agree with that. But Ford executives don't seem worried.
Like other vehicles of its type, the SuperCrew comes with a relatively short cargo bed--5.5 feet, in this case. But Ford figures it can compensate for that shortcoming with an optional curved, tubular-steel bed extender attachable at the end of the bed (with the tailgate down).
But betting within the auto industry is that most pusute buyers will forgo bed extenders. Ford, for example, says its full-size SuperCrew is designed for a "broad range" of customers, including those seeking "adventure" and those who are in search of what Noguchi calls "a very large automobile."
Pretty soon, none of it will matter. Automotive categories, as we've come to know them, will disappear. Heisenberg will rule. What you see on the road largely will depend on what you think you see.
Join Warren Brown tomorrow at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline for "Real Wheels," his live discussion about cars.
Nuts & Bolts
2001 Ford F-150 Lariat SuperCrew
Complaints: Instead of offering the bed extender as an option, Ford ought to give consumers the same break its giving them on pedal extenders: Make it standard.
Praise: A thoroughly enjoyable vehicle on the road. In tested four-wheel-drive form, it rumps and stumps over unimproved roads, such as those found throughout the District of Columbia. But it's also one heck of a highway cruiser--very smooth, surprisingly tight and agile. A joy toy par excellence.
Head-turning quotient: The kind of vehicle that "scares" Noguchi, who drives a little red Toyota Corolla. But it's also the kind that brings admiring glances from the Paul and Paulette Bunyans of the motoring world.
Engine: The tested F-150 Lariat SuperCrew is equipped with Ford's 5.4-liter Triton V-8 engine, designed to produce 260 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. A 4.6-liter, 220-horsepower Triton V-8 is available.
Models: The SuperCrew is available in standard XLT and upgraded Lariat trim levels. It comes in two-wheel and four-wheel drive. The standard transmission is an electronically controlled four-speed automatic.
Capacities: The 4x4 Lariat SuperCrew can haul a paylod of 1,715 pounds and pull a trailer weighing 7,700 pounds. Payload capacity goes up to 1,900 pounds and trailering capacity rises to 8,000 pounds in two-wheel-drive mode. Fuel capacity is 25 gallons; 87-octane unleaded is recommended.
Mileage: About 14 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving.
Price: The 2001 SuperCrew models go on sale in March. Base prices are expected to range from $26,000 to $32,000. The more options, the higher the price.
Purse-strings note: This is a "want" vehicle with some practical virtues. If you want a real full-size pickup, get a regular F150, GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra, Dodge Ram or Dodge Dakota.