By Mark Williams for PickupTrucks.com
It's hard to believe that an old 2005 GMC Canyon with more than 200,000 miles on it could steal the national spotlight from the swarm of small and alt-fuel cars that took center stage at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month, but that's exactly what happened when Scott Brown and his green pickup won a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts last week. But even Brown's successful campaign strategists would likely struggle if they had to convince truck makers to invest in their midsize and compact haulers because the real winners in sales and profits continue to be full-size pickups.
We spoke with several automakers about their small pickup trucks to find out what lies ahead for the baby brothers. The segment has been in decline for more than a decade, so we’d guess there’s been plenty of discussion about what the future holds. Our guess is that Toyota’s A-BAT from two years ago gives the most clues, but if that’s true, the OEs weren’t giving many hints. Here’s what our sources told us at each manufacturer.
Honda: “It seems like this would be the perfect time for something smaller, more efficient and less expensive. We like that the Ridgeline straddles the fence between the two worlds (full size and midsize), but it looks like somebody should be able to come up with a sporty category-buster.”
Toyota: “It does seem like something here will have to change. We’re selling a lot of Tacomas because they can do so many different things, including be a small, stripper, econo-hauler, but we’ve seen everything in the segment steadily grow. We’re not sure it (makes) much sense to go smaller with a Toyota. We’ve got some pretty good cars to do that.” (It’s worth noting that it was announced at the North American International Auto Show that the Prius would transform from a single vehicle nameplate into a family of vehicles and that Toyota's Scion brand might still have a place in its lineup for small pickup.)
Nissan: “We’ve definitely given that segment a lot of thought, and we think it makes sense for us to get back to basics. In this environment, you can expect to see the Frontier get a little smaller, get a little more rugged and become more economical and efficient for our buyers.”
Ford: “We’ve done a lot of background work here, and everything we’ve collected tells us the majority of people buying these vehicles are looking for a commuter car. In fact, the vehicle they cross-shop are all economy cars. From an investment point of view, we don’t like having one global midsize pickup and a different U.S. midsize pickup. That’s likely to change, but not very quickly. We haven’t done a lot to the Ranger in over 15 years, and it still sells quite well.”
Chevrolet: “We’re still dedicated to the midsize market, and we’ve seen it probably doesn’t make sense to keep putting a V-8 option inside something that small, no matter how much fun those packages are to drive. We’ve invested a lot of development cost into that platform, and it is sold around the world, but we think there might be some places to play with something smaller and less ‘traditional truck.’” (It’s worth noting GM had not a single Colorado or Canyon on the floor at the 2010 NAIAS.)
Dodge: “It seems our direction is pretty clear: The Dakota is going away (by 2011), and we’re likely to come out with something quite new, but we’re not walking away from the smaller pickup segment. The restructuring and renaming of the Ram trucks still leaves the door open for something that still looks like a Ram but can still do some work. Ladder frames work very well, but there are other choices that still have some of the same old capabilities.”
Suzuki: “We’re here because it makes sense to be here. Suzuki buyers use trucks. Are we going to go into full-size trucks? Probably not. But this is a long-term plan we have designed to build and support all of our Suzuki loyalists. Our buyers wanted the option; we knew the truck was good; and this is our foot in the door. We have the advantage of a better lifestyle fit than some other makers so we’re guessing that it’ll help us over time.”