The Best Truck Tailgates of 2020 (and How GM’s Revolutionary MulitPro Tailgate Came to Be)
For more than a century, all tailgates on pickup trucks served the same basic function, and they also looked quite similar. In short, a tailgate on any model was pretty much just a hinged door that opened and closed downward at the end of a truck bed. However, in 2006, Honda released the Ridgeline pickup truck, which offered a double-hinged tailgate that opened sideways as well as downward.
Since then, the purpose of a tailgate has become much more than providing practical access to the truck bed. Many manufacturers have been pouring lots of time and money into tailgate development as they look to get a leg up in the uber-competitive pickup segment. The result? Motorization, power locking, barn-door splits, convertible work surfaces, drop steps, and many more features can be found on America’s best selling trucks.
Though most of these trucks are boasting more impressive tailgates than in the past, not all tailgates are created equally. Below, we’ve compared the gates of five trucks so that you can see what each model offers, and we’ve also recounted a brief history of the groundbreaking MultiPro System developed by General Motors.
A TALE OF FIVE TAILGATES
Let’s start with five major pickup trucks and the features offered by their tailgates:
The GMC Sierra
The MultiPro System is by far the most impressive and functional tailgate on the market, and it’s exclusive to the GMC Sierra, coming standard on all SLT, AT4, and Denali models. What makes the MultiPro stand out? Well, a lot of things. It provides pickup owners with six different functions, each of which solves a practical problem faced by those who work from their truck. Also, the tailgate is lightweight, strong, and durable, and each component is made with quality materials. Oh yeah, and the engineers at GM managed to make this wonder of a tailgate cost-effective.
In the most basic sense, the MultiPro System is two different tailgates in one. The main gate is hinged and functions as a conventional tailgate. Within the panel of the primary gate is a smaller gate. Operating these two gates in various ways is how you get the six functions of the MultiPro.
It allows for easier access to items in the front of the bed by bringing you several inches closer to the bed floor. It turns into a seat and an entry step. It converts into a standing work surface and separates storage into two tiers. And there’s even a weatherproof Kicker audio system built into the tailgate that pushes 50 watts RMS per channel; complete with a USB port and auxiliary input, this sound system sounds remarkably powerful and crisp. Yes, the MultiPro is all it’s cracked up to be.
The Ford F-150
Ford was reasonably quick to respond to the Ridgeline’s disruption of the pickup market. In 2009, a drop-down step and folding grab-handle system were added to the F-150 and Super Duty models, which was considered quite innovative at the time. However, no other notable improvements were made to the tailgate until now. For the 2021 model year, Ford has introduced a re-tooled work-surface tailgate that is sure to please both those who work on construction sites and those who drive their truck recreationally.
Perhaps the best function of the newest Ford F-150 tailgate is its pairing with the ProPower onboard generator, which makes for a truly effective charging station and workspace. Also, the tailgate is equipped with clamp pockets; this allows workers to clamp a variety of objects to the tailgate without it damaging the outer shell of the gate. Moreover, there are plenty of depressions to hold pencils, cups, and other items, as well as new side-mounted cleats that function both as tie-down locations and bottle openers.
One downside with the new F-150 tailgate—other than the absence of several of the functions offered by the MultiPro tailgate—is that the gate only swings down the traditional way. This makes it more difficult to access items deep in the truck bed.
The Ram 1500
In the 2019 model year, Ram released its multifunction tailgate on the 1500 pickup models. In one respect, the tailgate is a conventional drop-down gate that can be operated with a remote. But it also contains a 60-40 split that enables the gate to open sideways. This allows for easier access to the truck bed for loading and unloading cargo. And unlike some of its competitors, the Ram 1500 tailgate can be opened and closed when using a trailer.
The Rambox is another notable feature of the 1500 truck bed. This storage unit is built into the bed, it’s lockable, and it has weatherstripping inside to keep water out. It also comes with a drain plug, which makes it perfect for storing ice, drinks, food, and many other things.
Though the multifunctional tailgate is better than previous Ram tailgates, it lacks adequate recessed areas and slots, which significantly limits the use of the truck bed as a workspace.
The Honda Ridgeline
The newest Honda Ridgeline tailgate is very similar to the 2006 version that shook up the pickup truck industry. It still has dual hinges that allow for the gate to open and close the traditional way or to the side. This makes it easier to load and unload cargo in the trunk bed, along with providing quick access to the trunk/cooler under the bed. As of 2020, the Ridgeline tailgate comes with remote locking.
You can also opt for speakers in the truck bed that play whatever you have running through the truck’s main audio system. It’s worth noting, however, that these speakers leave much to be desired and that the sound quality is nowhere close to that offered by the truck bed audio system of the GMC Sierra.
The Chevrolet Silverado
Some critics claim that there are not enough differences between the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra to justify the price gap. The tailgates on the two pickup models are just one of many examples of why that’s not true, as the MultiPro tailgate is exclusive to the Sierra and not available on any Silverado models.
Though it’s nothing compared to the revolutionary MultiPro system, the Silverado does offer some modernity with its tailgate. A power-operated gate is standard on the High Country trim and optional on the LTZ. By using the key fob, a button in the cab, or a button on the tailgate, you can easily open and close the gate. The sprawling “CHEVROLET” stamp across the tailgate adds a nice touch as well.
THE STORY BEHIND GM’S MULTIPRO TAILGATE
There’s no question that GM has a leg up in the tailgate race right now, and it’s hard to imagine that a more innovative tailgate than the MultiPro System will be produced in the near future. And there also happens to be an interesting story about how the tailgate was created:
A Covert Operation
The MultiPro tailgate was kept a secret—even from the majority of GM employees—until its reveal in March 2018. Why? Because a few GM engineers recognized early on that they were onto something revolutionary.
This is how Derek Patterson, the lead integration engineer on the project, described it: “We had a 3D printed version of the tailgate that we kept covered with a lock on the door. We’d put it on a gurney and wheel it in the conference room to work on it, then wheel it back to the storage room. We did this all in secret. I kept a list of those who knew about it. No one ever showed anything over Skype.”
How It Started
One day in 2009, technician Jim Gobart was asked by his manager to solve a problem. The manager complained about how cargo always seemed to slide to the front of his truck bed, making it hard to reach. Within a few days, Gobart presented a few ideas to his boss.
He thought about folding the two-foot-tall tailgate in half and then folding the second part down, which would bring a person several inches closer to the front of the truck bed. “Then I thought, if I put another flap on the inside of that and it folds out horizontal, you now have a stair step. I thought that would be very nice for someone who works out of the back of that truck.”
Gobart then figured out ways to add storage and seating to the tailgate. After that, he got the go-ahead to develop a mock version. This took about a month and consisted of cutting up two gates and folding them into one.
The GM leaders loved this first iteration of the MultiPro System, but there were a few hurdles that kept it out of further development and production for about ten years:
- GM was entering bankruptcy at the peak of the Great Recession, which meant that investing in such an elaborate tailgate design wasn’t practical.
- The GMC Sierra was soon reaching the end of its product cycle, so it didn’t make sense to introduce such a revolutionary tailgate for the model at the time.
- There was still a need for a ton of product testing and refinement.
The Innovation Hub
By 2014, GM was in a position to revisit the MultiPro tailgate idea. Though he loved the accessibility and versatility of Gobart’s initial design, Patterson was concerned about the hatches. So, he presented the idea to the newly-formed GM Innovation Hub—a group of GM employees that exists to spark inspiration and creative ideas from various departments.
This resulted in ideas for a variety of improvements, including ergonomic changes that would help prevent people from bumping their arms when using the tailgate.
The Customer Clinic
After the Innovation Hub did their part, Patterson asked Gobart to build another MultiPro prototype so they could use it in an upcoming customer clinic. The new-and-improved tailgate was installed on a 2014 Sierra and sent off to the clinic.
At these clinics, the customers don’t know what manufacturers are present. All they see is a tailgate, as the rest of the pickup truck is covered by a curtain. Overall, the tailgate got rave reviews, and people wanted it for their truck.
Three big things were learned from the clinic. First of all, most customers said the entry step was the most important component. A close second was the ability to get closer to the front of the truck bed for easy access to cargo. And the two-tier storage was a big hit as well.
From there, it was time for rigorous testing so that GM could develop the tailgate that is now included on the GMC Sierra. The complexity of the tailgate meant that lots of mule versions (23, to be exact) and computer analyses had to be done at GM’s proving grounds and labs. Over the course of almost four years, hundreds of tests—the most ever for any GM piece of equipment—were performed to ensure the tailgate would remain lightweight, strong, and durable. In 2018, it was approved for production.
These days, the tailgate can be a legitimate selling point for a pickup truck. Many of the most successful pickup manufacturers are investing heavily in making their tailgates more innovative and practical for customers. So far, GM’s MultiPro System is in a league of its own, and the overwhelming response from customers suggests that all those years developing and testing the tailgate were well spent. If you want to see it for yourself, be sure to schedule a test drive in one of our new Sierra 1500s at Liberty Buick GMC!