U.S. North to South 2015: Seattle to Portland

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

If you thought I got lost somewhere in southern Alaska, you thought wrong.

We are now hitting Seattle, WA for the remaining part of this U.S. North to South series. I have the privilege of driving a 2015 Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Turbo Diesel.

I baptised last year’s Ram 1500 as Albert. This year, I will follow the letters of the alphabet as they do for hurricanes. Say hello to Bob. Bob, say hello to TTAC.

My first impressions are below along with an explanation on Ford Seattle license plates 2,000 miles up north in Barrow, Alaska…

But first, you may ask, “Why a male nickname for the truck?”

Here’s the thing: in France, where I’m originally from, everything is sexualised (nothing new here) and everything has a gender. Trucks, including pickups, are male, while passenger cars are female. So even though I’ve called Australia home for thirteen years now, naming my truck Barbara would be wrong — very wrong — to me. So Bob it is.

This Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 with 8-foot bed and Cummins turbodiesel under its gargantuan hood retails for $48,565.

A little bit over a year ago when I took the wheel of Albert, the other Ram, I was surprised at how car-like nimble it was. Bob is a whole different story. Even though it is part of the same family of pickups and counted together in the monthly sales charts, stepping up from a Ram 1500 to a Ram 2500 is exactly like going from a car to a truck. Last year, I would have liked Albert to sound more manly. As astoundingly frugal as it was (I achieved 30 mpg with him), the 3-liter Ecodiesel did not sound like an actual truck. Bob, with its 6.7-liter Cummins I-6, is every bit of truck that Albert wasn’t. I had always dreamt of driving across the United States in a proper truck. Bob sounds like a truck, and feels like a truck to drive, too.

Being European, I’m used to manhandling manual gearboxes. I’ve done so all my life to the point where automatics feel eerily unnatural to me. Here, too, Bob is a step up. Contrasting with the automatic rotary shifter used by the Ram 1500, Bob’s manual lever is gigantic and lodged on the dashboard, not the floor, like a good, old-fashioned pickup. Giving away its primary function as a workhorse, Bob’s first three gears are very short, making for interesting starts at red lights.

Bob sits very high on its wheels, requiring a windshield-side handle and muscled legs to jump in. Its 8-foot box makes it a longer vehicle than most in the city. I feel taller and bigger than everything around me. I also take up a lot more space on the road. All this combines very nicely to give a quintessential American pickup experience.

It took me a day to get used to his little quirks, but Bob and I are now ready to roll! First stop: downtown Seattle. Navigating this monster in the (very) steep and narrow Seattle streets is a baptism-by-fire akin to my Manhattan experience with Albert last year. Parking on the street is not an option as there are no (free) parking spots large enough. My only way out was the oversize section outside of an underground parking lot. Full-size pickup trucks are definitely frowned upon in green-obsessed Seattle…

Only in Seattle: two hour-queue for a chowder.

Now onto Seattle as a city. I had no expectations, but wasn’t thrilled either. Healthily grounded after two full weeks spent in mostly remote Alaska, I was somehow looking forward to a more “sophisticated” experience, for lack of a better word. But the town’s crowd of latte-sipping hipsters, suit-wearing buskers and queue-making chowder-eaters leave me unimpressed. Pike Place Market is a must-see, but nothing out of the ordinary for a Frenchman. It was, however, nice to enter the very first Starbucks coffeeshop ever built.

Before we hit the road, a word on the best-selling cars in Washington state ( see all the sales figures for the ten states visited here). With Seattle as the main population hub, it’s a passenger-car-dominated state with the top 3 sellers belonging to that segment: Toyota Camry, Corolla and Subaru Outback. Although less prominent than in Alaska, the Subaru craze is still raging here, as is the case in the entire Northwestern part of the United States. A healthy amount of privately-owned Subaru Outbacks can be spotted throughout the city and its suburbs as I witnessed during a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls. In fact, the best-selling “light truck” in WA and fourth-best overall selling vehicle is the Subaru Forester, outselling the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado in a rare achievement.

Seattle is the kingdom of eco-friendly cars. The tone is set as soon as we leave the airport with a Tesla depot in full view with its dozens of Model S units awaiting delivery. A multitude of Toyota Priuses can be seen streaming along Seattle’s streets, with the majority of the town’s taxis being Priuses too. All models in the electric vehicle category are well represented as well, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and the three BMW i3 spotted in a matter of hours.

Compared to Alaska, the car and truck landscape is definitely newer. There are no more old F-Series trucks on the roads in Washington as they are legion up north. I only spotted one 1980s vintage example in two days. I also saw my first Scion iA and new-generation Hyundai Tucson of the trip. On this last point, Hyundai has grabbed a much higher market share of the Washington car market than it has in Alaska. A constant flow of Elantras (#4 passenger car here so far in 2015) grace Seattle’s roads.

Seattle may be green, but it’s still socially awkward. While the traffic was at a standstill for miles in all lanes of the highway on the way back from Snoqualmie Falls, the carpool lane was totally empty.

Just miles south of Seattle, in Renton near the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, I was able to elucidate a mystery I mentioned while still in Barrow in Northern Alaska. There I spotted a number of Fords with Sound Ford license plates. According to its website, Sound Ford is about to celebrate 40 consecutive years as the number one volume Ford dealer in Washington. A quick chat with Derek, a salesman at Sound Ford Renton, tells me why I found cars from his dealership all the way up in northern Alaska, 2,000 miles away.

“Yes, we do ship a lot of cars to Alaska. Here, around Seattle, you have a dozen Ford dealers in the area, so the competition is intense. Our retail prices are much lower than what Ford charges in Anchorage, Alaska. Customers purchase their cars on our website, give us instructions as to which port and barge to drive the car to, we load the car on the barge and they pick it up in Barrow. Barge transport to Alaska costs around $1,000 and, even when factoring that cost in, these customers end up saving $5,000 to $10,000 per vehicle by purchasing it here instead of in Anchorage.”

It all makes sense now. Looking at the most frequent cars in Barrow, I would guess a lot of Ford F-150 pickups have made the leisurely three-week barge trip through the Bering Strait, waving at Russia on the way.

It’s now time to take Bob on the road. We head south to Portland, Oregon for Bob’s first day on the highway. Along the way, and thanks to a tip from fellow TTAC writer Cameron Aubernon, Bob and I meet Optimus Prime from the latest Transformers movie. This keeps Bob on his toes, showing him that even though he was a monster on the road, he was still no match for the modified Mack truck.

According to the Lonely Planet, Portland is “an up-and-coming destination that has finally arrived and a can’t-miss stop on your adventures in the Pacific Northwest”. Once again, and I’m sorry I feel this way, but I found it to be an over-rated snobbish town. I am doing this drive for big skies and National Parks, not much-hyped hipster towns. The car park in Portland, however, makes for interesting observations: Teslas, more Smart Fortwos here than in the rest of the U.S. combined (only a slight exaggeration) and customers that have fully embraced the revived Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups.

Favorites in Portland: the Subaru Outback and Forester

Looking at the official car sales figures for 2015 in Oregon, we find an eerily similar picture to that in Alaska: the overall best-seller is the Ram pickup (so Bob feels right at home), followed by the Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry and Subaru Forester. The Ford F-150 is knocked down to fourth overall and the Toyota Tacoma is fourth in the light-truck category, confirming Oregon’s taste for mid-sized pickups.

I won’t spend the night here but will drive a further couple of hours east to sleep in The Dalles, at the border between Washington and Oregon, in the first of many Motel 6 hotels I will stay at during this trip. The good news in this part of the country is the low gas prices: from $2.729 a gallon of diesel in Anchorage to $2.299 Seattle and $2.599 in The Dalles. That’s up to a full dollar per gallon less than what I was paying last year and will make up for the weaker fuel economy of my Ram 2500, standing in the low twenties for now.

Next we cross Idaho to reach Glacier National Park in Montana.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia. He runs a website dedicated to car sales statistics, trends and analysis called BestSellingCarsBlog. The website features sales data for 190 countries worldwide including 80 countries updated monthly.

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2 of 38 comments
  • Cameron Aubernon Cameron Aubernon on Dec 01, 2015

    It was a pleasure to meet you back in early October, Matt! And I'm happy you got a chance to see Optimus Prime in Auburn when he was there, too. :)

  • Big Wheel Big Wheel on Dec 02, 2015

    Um, Optimus Prime is not a Mack truck. This latest version is a Western Star 5700, part of the Daimler Trucks North America truck family (which also includes Freightliner). That's a Western Star truck dealer it's sitting at.

  • Mike Some Evs are hitting their 3 year lease residual values in 6 months.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I am just here for the beer! (did I say it right?)
  • El scotto Tim, to be tactful I think a great many of us would like a transcript of TTAC's podcast. 90 minutes is just too long for most of us to listen. -evil El Scotto kicking in- The blog at best provides amusement, 90 minutes is just too much. Way too much.
  • TooManyCars VoGhost; I was referring more to the Canadian context, but the same graft is occurring in the US of A and Europe. Political affiliation appears to be irrelevant.
  • The Oracle Going to see a lot of corporations migrating out of Delaware as the state of incorporation. Musk sets trends, he doesn’t follow them.