DETROIT – The pickup truck as family hauler? It’s happening, one executive says.

With a tougher stance than the cross/utility vehicle and more capability than the soccer-mom minivan, the pickup is attracting buyers unlike the typical truck driver.

“More and more consumers are starting to consider trucks (who) have never considered trucks before,” Ram brand President and CEO Fred Diaz tells WardsAuto at the North American International Auto Show here.

Do-it-yourselfers, athletic types, outdoors enthusiasts and other hobbyists often have a unifying trait: A growing family and a need for a vehicle that can carry their tools, gear and teens.

“As teenagers get older and bigger, they get taller and longer and stronger,” Diaz says. “They want more space.”

A pickup “gives you a lot of room and a lot of utility to haul more,” he says. “You have it, you know it’s there and when you need it, you know you have it. You don’t have to worry about borrowing a truck or renting a truck.”

Ram ads won’t show a 1500 pickup parked by a baseball diamond and a mom happily lugging out a cooler of Gatorade for her son’s Little League team. Instead, the brand is looking at ways to tap into the family market without diluting the pickup’s image or associating it with other family vehicles.

“Those are areas that our agency is looking at right now for future ways of marketing the truck,” Diaz says. “Done right, you can make it a very truck-centric spot.”

There are no dramatic numbers showing families abandoning minivans and CUVs for pickups, he says. But interest has grown as pickups add more technology and increase their fuel efficiency.

“We’re seeing some movement from people who use trucks as their primary family vehicle,” Diaz says. “We’re also seeing more and more women buying trucks, just like we’re seeing families.

“For me, being from Texas, there’s nothing cooler than seeing a woman driving a truck. To me it exudes confidence. It says, ‘I can handle myself, and I can take care of my business and I can drive this big rig with no problem.’”

Ram also is building on the momentum from landing North American Truck of the Year honors. The award was given on the first day of auto show press previews. Hours later, General Motors debuted its GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups going on sale in the summer; the next day Ford showed its Atlas concept, a precursor to its ’14 F-150.

“In this truck business, the heat is never ever on simmer. The heat is always white-hot. You can’t rest for a second nor let your guard down or get complacent,” Diaz says.

“We’re going to be the newest truck in the market. Our job and our task is to convince our customers that we’ve got the best truck on the market, and we maintain the fact that we have the best truck on the market even after GM launches their new pickup.”

Diaz also faces the challenge of keeping his stable of pickups fresh as driver tastes change. When the Dodge Ram won North American Truck of the Year honors in 1994, technology such as touchscreens and WiFi hotspots were virtually unknown. Today, the goal is to constantly update without expensive overhauls.

“I think the product lifecycle is fairly constant relative to where it’s been in the past, which is roughly about a 7-year cycle and you do a midcycle refresh in between,” Diaz says. “Will that window shorten? I don’t know, because there’s so many things you could do to make a product better without doing a complete makeover or refresh.

“You can add things that consumers want when you read the tea leaves and you hear that consumers need new technology.”

afoley@wardsauto.com