DEARBORN, MI – Truck makers have a diverse group of customers, and it’s important for interior designers to know the wants and needs of each of them and deliver solutions, says a group of panelists at the 2014 WardsAuto Interiors Conference here.

Ford and Chrysler, which, along with General Motors, control the majority of the U.S. light-truck segment, have closely scrutinized their owner base and offer a broad range of offerings while at the same time striving to keep manufacturing complexity down.

Ryan Nagode, chief designer-Ram Interiors, says there’s a stereotype that all truck consumers are “Texas-loving guys,” but notes that’s “not the only market out there.”

Nagode says most truck buyers are males between ages 55-65 with an average income of $80,000 per year. Contrary to popular belief, most light-truck buyers use their trucks as they would any other vehicle.

“We’re seeing an influx of the family coming into (the truck segment) more,” he says. “It’s not all about function anymore. A truck may be the only car in someone’s family.”

While a great degree of functionality may rank lower on a truck buyer’s wish list than it did previously, it’s still important, and carrying over the functionality offered by the pickup bed to the interior is critical, Nagode says.

“You want organization, craftsmanship and flexibility,” he says. “Truck interiors are about product design. There are hundreds of products in an interior working together.”

Another misconception about truck buyers is that they’re intimidated by technology. While that may have been true in the past, Nagode says today’s customer wants technologies that can aid them at work and in their everyday lives, but the tech has to be specially tailored to trucks.

“Truck customers are unique. You can’t throw a full digital cluster at them,” he says. “You have to integrate things differently (and) better. You have to have clear, concise imagery, and redundancy is huge in the truck realm because with gloved hands a lot of touchscreens won’t work.”

To provide truck interiors to a wide array of customers without complicating the manufacturing process, Nagode says Chrysler has developed a modular approach for its Ram-brand trucks that allows it to offer $75,000 luxury vehicles as well as base-level work trucks.

“It can get exhausting having to design specific interiors for each truck, so we’re flexible with that,” he says. “It goes back to supply side, as well. We ask suppliers to find innovative ways to help differentiate (interiors) without driving the manufacturing side crazy with configurations.”

Ryan Niemiec, interior design manager-Ford, says efficiency is essential in designing a truck, adding it “needs to be lean, not overbuilt.”

Niemiec says when designing the interior of the upcoming new ’15 F-150 pickup, his team spoke with existing truck customers and explored new ideas.

Like Nagode, Niemiec says Ford discovered truck customers are using their vehicles for far more than work, noting the focus on the interior has to be not just for “9-to-5 use, but 5-to-9” purposes as well.

“A day in the life of a truck customer is extensive,” he says. “They shift from work to an active lifestyle, and the truck is a useful tool in that aspect.”

Niemiec says Ford truck interiors have to strike a balance between bold and advanced, as well as being both a workhorse and a luxury vehicle.

The interior design also must carry themes of the exterior, as is being done with the new F-150, which incorporates an industry-first aluminum body.

“The exterior is aluminum and we wanted to take that mentality and bring it into interior, but soften it up a bit to make it inviting,” he says of some of the truck’s trim pieces. “It’s honest and straightforward.”

bpope@wardsauto.com