Pickup trucks for the Czech Army - are they a suitable replacement for UAZ and LR Defender vehicles?



The Czech Army has announced its intention to purchase hundreds of pickup trucks as a replacement for years old UAZ and Land Rover Defender off-road vehicles. Specifically, these are to be pickups in the double-cab hard top design, i.e. with a four-door cabin and a cover superstructure above the cargo bed. This step will affect the Army and its performance for decades. That is why we intend to pay systematic attention to it. In today's article we plan to generally describe this category of vehicles.

The need to replace the significantly obsolete and often faulty UAZ and LR Defender cars is quite old. But the decision to buy pickups is fresh. The competition, in which hundreds of pickups for the Czech Army are to be bought, is to be announced in the last summer. The Ministry of Defense has CZK 1.6 billion at its disposal for the purchase. However last year, the army intended to buy off-road cars with a passenger cabin in the M1-G category. But later, the tender was cancelled due to several procedural and content ambiguities. During the tender, the army extended the subject of the competition also to cover pickups - after a question from one of the participants in the tender. Nowadays, the Army wants to announce a tender for the second time, and in a purely N1-G category, with trucks weighing up to 3.5 tonnes, even though the project was originally called an off-road passenger car (AOT).

It is important to keep in mind in this context that the Army must replace the old UAZs and Defenders with the new vehicles that will serve at least even in the next decade. Therefore, these should be modern machines designed using the latest technologies and with the prospect of the development of the army's capabilities in the future and its expanding number of tasks in mind. The new light vehicles should finally help the army to enter the 21st century. There is no direct and adequate modern replacement for UAZ cars (in the case of a slightly modified and improved model, which the manufacturer still offers, we cannot talk about a modern car suitable for today's armed forces, moreover, it comes from Russia). However, there is a modern successor to Defender, and this is a fresh novelty that is produced in Slovakia in Nitra. The second generation of the LR Defender is a car that meets today's and tomorrow's demanding requirements for a durable and powerful vehicle with all the required standards in terms of operation as well as reliability and safety.

However, pickups are, in fact, small trucks and, according to the legislation, they are also specified this way - they belong to the N1 category. While a regular passenger car has an enclosed cab with two rows of seats, a pickup truck normally has a cab with only one row of seats and a cargo bed is installed behind it. Today, double-cab pickups are often manufactured: these are a compromise between a small truck and a five-seater SUV, while the rear row of seats offers limited space.

The first pickups were made in the U.S. before the First World War. They stood for a marginal segment until the 1950s: the pickup´s cargo bed does not fit much. And it is a paradox that greater variability and space for transport is offered by an ordinary station wagon with a closed cab or off-road vehicles or SUVs with a closed cabin. Even in a smaller car of the Škoda Fabia category, a load space of almost three meters long can be obtained by folding down the backrests of the rear seats and the front passenger seat. Pickups on much larger chassis can only dream of this: the Nissan Navara King Cab (with a single row of seats in the cab) offers a 1.8-meter-long loading area on the cargo bed, the Double Cab version (with two rows of seats in the cab) offers even 300 mm less space.

Long objects can also be transported by station wagons or off-road vehicles and SUVs on the roof, which is not possible even with the largest and longest pickups. Most of them are built on platforms with a ladder frame, while the cabin and the cargo bed do not form one unit. Therefore, there is a mutual movement when driving, especially in torsion, and for this reason, it is not possible to install a roof rack or a carrier, which would be attached to both the cab and the hard top. It is necessary to install two separate roof racks (one for the cabin and one for the hard top), on which only short loads can be transported.

A major limitation of the pickup is the fact that the cargo bed is physically separated from the cab. Therefore, the pickup as a vehicle for carrying loads has less variability and capacity than a passenger car in a station wagon version, and therefore it does not make sense to buy one for craftsmen and tradesmen.  Pickups are basically only suitable for a narrow segment of activities where it is necessary to transport smaller volumes of cargo (typically timber from the forest) and the advantage is the accessibility of the cargo bed from all sides (unless a hard top or flat cargo cover is installed).

The variability of a pickup can be slightly improved by modifying the cab or of the cargo bed. Instead of a standard cab with a single row of seats, a double-cab with four doors and two rows of seats can be installed, so that the pickup theoretically becomes a five-seater vehicle. This design is the current choice of the Czech Army. In practice, however, the idea of ​​a comfortable passenger car is fulfilled by pickups with the largest dimensions and the highest price, such as the Ford F-150, which is over 6 meters long. Mid-range pickups (VW Amarok, Nissan Navarra, Mercedes X-Class, Toyota Hilux), which may be of interest to the Czech Army, are about a meter shorter and the second row of seats is actually an emergency bench rather than three full-size seats. Passengers over 180 cm in height suffer from a lack of space in the foot area, not to mention soldiers with tactical equipment.

Instead of the usual open cargo bed, a cover superstructure made of plastic or sheet metal, the so-called hard top, can be installed on the body of the pickup. And the Czech Army is interested in this design. The pickup then remotely resembles a station wagon with a closed cab. However, the advantage of easy access to the cargo bed from the side disappears (although some hard tops also offer a tilting side window, which provides limited access) and at the rear you need to open two doors instead of one (cargo bed door and door on the hard top). It should be added that the luggage compartment of a pickup truck with a hard top is not the same as a full-size trunk in a station wagon: the cargo bed of the pickup truck is not air-conditioned or heated and is less resistant to forcible entry or mechanical damage when using it.

Pickup trucks with a hard top enable access to the load only through the rear of the car, and an access to the loading area is complicated by the lower folding door. Both of which is very impractical when compared with cars with a closed cab. The lower folding door extends the overall length of the car (unlike doors that open to the side or up) and it is not possible to reach the load by the rear of the cab without having to climb or sit on them. In addition, due to these lower doors, pickups have a much higher edge loading than off-road vehicles or SUVs. It is also very impractical that all personal luggage or cargo is not accessible to the crew from the interior of the car.

Passive and active safety is also a very important parameter in modern cars. It is interesting that most pickups still achieve only average or even below-average ratings in crash tests and tests of safety or driving characteristics on the roads (until a few years ago, the ratings were almost tragic). It is clear that if the military really bought pickups to replace the UAZs and Defenders, they would spend most of their service on normal roads and in civilian road traffic.

Safety and design resilience should therefore be one of the important aspects in deciding how to replace old UAZs and Defenders. After all, traffic accidents also occur during military exercises, etc. In general, it can be said that pickups are definitely not among the safest cars on today's roads. Even the driving characteristics are not among the best, moreover, they change significantly in relation to the weight of the transported load. The pitfalls of driving characteristics of pickups have been shown by moose tests with poor results in some cars of this type in recent years.

In summary: Trying to create a passenger car from a pickup (a small truck) by enlarging the cab and installing a hard top is possible, but the result is a compromise with which neither a truck fan who wants to put the maximum on the car bed, nor a passenger fan who wants to comfortably transport themselves and a family, can be happy.