Are Micro-Pickups the Next Big Thing?

Mini1
Words and Photos by Mark Williams for PickupTrucks.com

The auto industry isn’t the only thing that’s shrinking lately. By most expert accounts, most new vehicle equipment brought to market in the next three to five years will be smaller and more fuel efficient. Those same prognosticators say sales of full-size pickup trucks will continue to shrink, then level off, restabilizing at half the volumes we saw just a few years ago.

Where does that leave those of us who like the flexibility of a pickup, yet are also worried about fluxuating fuel prices and problematic big V-8 fuel economy? One alternative may be in the form of mini-pickup trucks from Asia running two- and three-cylinder engines on mini-pickup and work van platforms.

As recently as last year, some companies imported a few of these models into the U.S. with mixed sales results. Although they can run comfortably at speeds at or near 50 and 60 mph, most are limited to off-highway use.

But that could be changing. We recently had the chance to drive one of these “little trucks” at a local Ford Fleet and Commercial dealership in Fontana, Calif., and found it to be an interesting surprise.

From the moment we opened and slammed the door of our 2008 test unit, we knew this was a different type of vehicle. This particular model was an MUT brand or K-Class minitruck from the Japanese market. We liked the buslike seating position and the tremendous amount of visibility, mainly because of the short hood. In fact, the engine — a 59-cubic-inch four-cylinder — sits underneath the front seats, giving the driver and passenger an unobstructed front view just past the front bumpers.

Mniniunderhood
Because of the engine location, we felt a good amount of vibration and eventually a good amount of heat coming up through the floor. The 0.97-liter I-4 produces about 50 horsepower and 55 pounds-feet of torque, which may sound quite small, but as we zigzagged through the parking lot and industrial neighborhood, it was plenty of power to move the 2,000-pound vehicle. (Two-door models are about 300 pounds lighter.)

MUTEngine
The MUT’s engine is mated to a standard synchromesh five-speed manual that will take you back several years, when searching and grinding a few gears was the norm, but the gear slots and shift lever felt solid. As you might imagine with a small two-wheel-drive vehicle and rack-and-pinion steering, the feel of the vehicle was quick and sharp. It will turn on a dime and cut a tight 16.5-foot turning circle. The front suspension is a simple double A-arm setup with coil springs, and the rear is even simpler with a stout live axle and leaf springs. And because these vehicles are designed to work hard in tight spaces, payload numbers are typically right around the vehicles’ weight. So our quad-cab model is rated to carry just under 2,000 pounds, but we’re guessing that’s a conservative number.

Minirearaxle
What’s not so impressive is the ride quality when you reach higher speeds, around 45 to 50 mph. We found plenty of noise and rattling, and when we jumped on the brakes, braking was unnerving. Although we didn’t do any quantifiable track testing, the brakes felt soft and mushy, and stopping distance seemed considerably longer than we expected. Maybe this isn’t too surprising, given the small drum brake sizes and puny 165/70R13 tires.

Also, we found the engines must be tuned and biased for stop-and-start cycles because in the 30 miles we clocked on our short-course test drive, we calculated that we used about two gallons of fuel, giving us an unscientific 15 mpg. Not great, but maybe 150 miles per tank isn’t so bad for a small-mile work truck that will never be used for cross-country motoring.

Miniseats
Overall, the vehicle doesn’t look like it will fill the niche below midsize or compact pickup trucks anytime soon, but there seems to be some value and fun factor here. Since this quad-cab model might just fit in the bed of a full-size heavy-duty pickup truck — granted, with a few modifications — we can imagine the ATV and side-by-side bed-toy crowd getting very clever with a vehicle like this. And the fact that it’s strong enough to practically carry itself when called for payload duty is an impressive achievement.

These MUTs could become popular on ranches or with the 4x4 trail crowd as well, and if fuel prices shoot up again and prices for electric vehicles stay high, there may be a place for more of these mini work trucks on the job site.

Our test unit was being sold by the Ford dealership right around $7,500, but not any of the major players in this segment in Japan (such as Suzuki, Daihatsu, Honda, Subaru, Mazda, and Mitsubishi) plan to bring these trucks to the U.S. For now, the internet is probably the best way to find the best deals. We also recommend contacting your local department of motor vehicles to find out your state’s exact restrictions and licensing terms.

Mini2

Specifications
Model:  MUT two-wheel-drive minitruck
Price:  $7,500 (estimated)
Engine: I-4, single overhead camshaft, electronic fuel injection
Displacement:  970cc / 59 cid
Bore x stroke:  2.62 by 2.83 inches
Power: 48 horsepower
Torque: 55 pounds-feet
Transmission: five-speed manual
Top speed:  60 mph
Suspension: Independent front suspension, coil springs; live axle, leaf springs
Steering: rack and pinion
Turning circle: 16.4 feet
Wheelbase: 100 inches
Dimensions (inches): 157 by 58 by 74
Track width, front/rear (inches): 50.4/50.8
Curb weight: 2,038 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating: 3,997 pounds
Payload: 1,950 pounds
Weight distribution, empty: 51/49
Weight distribution, loaded: 37/63

Comments

So the new Ford Super Duty gets better fuel economy than that gokart?

15 mpg ?

But for the environmentalists,and left wing go-greeners..this truck is green and a full size truck is not,it doesnt matter if a more capable,powerful,more reliable full size truck gets better gas mileage (and is actually greener,for those who care),in the greenies eye smaller is better than an evil full size...
...in the 70's the emmision controls,slowed the vehicles down,they used more gas but were considered better for the environment because they had b.s pollution controls on them...the auto industry is going to go down hill from here,no more 400 hp trucks,we will have 100 hp 4cyl F-150's and Silverado's and Rams that get 4 mpg..but hey,its green because its not a gas guzzling V-8 ,as they think !!

the 15 mpg is not surprising. my 08 hemi qc ram gets better fuel mileage than my 92 geo tracker winter beater does screaming 4500rpm on the highway to keep from getting run over.

I doubt that this truck was ever intended to go over 40 mph. It's a back alley, side street urban shuttle. quote"Also, we found the engines must be tuned and biased for stop-and-start cycles". It probably would be way superior to a conventional vehicle under those circumstances.
If I were a business man, I'd rather buy 4 of these at 7,500 a piece for urban delivery work than "ONE" $35,000 dollar plugin that can only get 50 - 80 miles on a recharge.

@Alex

Do some heavy-duty stop and go driving, turning the super-duty on/off multiple times in an hour, you'll see how silly your comment is.

Is this the latest trend in pickup trucks? No, i don't think so, they wouldn't be even successful here, where I live = Europe. The only possible solution is in my opinion real small trucks like real all-new Ranger, Colorado etc. with body on frame (most solid construction for all kind of work) and efficient 6 cylinder-engine... The orient kind of micro trucks aren't' suited for standard American needs, even European!

I bet we will see smaller pickups coming to the market again, but not this small.

I bet they get no smaller then the ranger.

It is definately defferent, i think there is a market out there for this type of vehicle especially with fuel economy and gas prices rising. Companies are going to want something to drive that will save the company money and not somuch looks.

"fluxuating" =D

That'd be a great little truck to tow behind an RV for use at a campsite and alike.

This is NOT the way to go and for what I want (and I believe a good portion of US buyers to) is a mid to full size no BS pickup that gets good mileage with decent towing capabilities yet rides nice, has solid 4x4 capabilities and can be cleaned out with hose!

P.S. They already make trucks like this they are called S+S All terrain vehicles LOL

Lou,
I doubt the $7500 price is accurate if you were to try to order one. You can probably add another $10,000 to the price.

Few will entertain the thought of driving one of those POS death traps. 15mpg is ridiculous. The auto manufacturers just aren't listening.

As a business owner, I wouldn't buy even one of these. The bed is too small for cargo or tools and it is not made for towing. It is pretty much useless. It might be good for delivering groceries in a city. But you can do that with pretty much any vehicle and this would not be my first choice. And the bed is exposed and the crappy mileage makes buying these senseless for any kind of business.

@David

Alex is right. If you read carefully it's not stop and go driving in a city, but on a short track. I think a F150 will not do better neither worse than the 2000 pounds piece of crap.

Tell who's silly or need glasses?

These are Kei Pickups built for the tiny streets of old Japanese villages. In that sense the very low price is a trade off for their otherwise limited capability.

On one hand, I love the simplicity of it. I mean, it looks like any problem could be remedied with a pair of vice-grips, a screwdriver, and a hammer.

On the other hand, I don't think it would sell well in the U.S. for a few reasons:

1. Americans aren't typically huge fans of van-bodied pickup trucks. Both Ford and Dodge tried it years ago with poor results.

2. The manual transmission eliminates a huge percentage of our vehicle buying public.

3. 15mpg or so highway is terrible for a vehicle like this, regardless of how it performs in city mileage.

4. In its current form it wouldn't be street legal in most, if not all, of the U.S.

5. To make it street legal, would mean a substantial jump in price. Which, would most likely be a problem if it reaches Ford Ranger/Chevy Colorado money.

6. 2wd, especially with such small treadless tires, means it's pretty much stuck running on pavement and in fair weather. That knocks out a lot of tradesman, as well as a lot of people in the northern states.

Basically, it seems like it would slot in somewhere between a crew-style SxS ATV and a smaller traditional pickup (Ranger/Colorado/Canyon/ect).....without half the features of either. I just can't see a lot of people buying them.

Just completed a 600 mile trip in my 02 Ranger - hauling a 585lb ATV and averaged 22 MPG, at speeds of 70 mph. And it stops just fine. You could buy one for about $5000.
I do wish I had this truck though...to pay more, spend more on gas, take twice the time, haul a mo-ped, and keep my back side warmer.

2000 lb payload? I don't believe it based on these golf cart suspension shots.

At first the idea of a small pickup easily afordable seems like a good idea but this! This is pathetic, even 7,500 makes it sound expensive 1ce you get into the specs of the "truck." I mean horible horse power and torque to where even a smart car can out tow it, 15 mpg! thats 3500-4500 hd milage for a hrroble usless small pickbed van that has an engine that if explodes is going to blow your ass off if you survive! everything about this is absolute failure.

Can't speek for everyplace but they are street legal where I live, AZ (as are golf carts and ATV's) The ones I see here are mostly used on golf coarses as beverage/maintanance carts.

If it only had a diesel. VW needs to bring back a version of the Rabbit diesel pickup. That was sweet, got 40 + mpg with out breaking a sweat at 70 MPH all day long. Plus a lot of smaller delivery or workman types could use it. They are the ones you see with the paint or drywall cans in the back seat of a cavalier and the ladder strapped to the roof.

I forget if VW's current foreign truck is offered in a diesel. They did a feature on it hear. But I think it is, but of course they aren't imported thanks to our EPA that likes to strangle all vehicles. I wish the EPA types would try running a marathon with their nose plugged and a hand over their mouths. See if they run well!

this is the ugliest thing i have ever seen....

i dont get it...how can it haul almost a 1ton with that little axle and tires....

whay not put a diesel in this thing or atleast turbo charge the thing or put a two cylinder engine in there....

MPG sucks
powerless
ugly
way too small
legal?

this thing could never compare to the old toyota T100
or the dodge D50 or the ranger or colorado.....they get better MPGs and have more power...

When I was stationed in S. Korea in the mid 90s, we used these to run around the airfield. They were a blast to drive compared to the traditional fullsize pickup the Army had. We were slowly switching these out to Humvee's, but to run around base on village streets, these things were great.

Hay the Micro Pickup looks just like the Ford F-150. Infact, you could mistake them for twins because they are both BUTT UGLY!!!

What does a Ford F-150 want to be when it grows up? A Chevy Silverado of course!

Now for you Ford fans, no back talk now. I don't want to hear any back lip from you. ah, ah, Zip it! Not a Peep!

Alex, Lou, Frank, I don't want any back talk from you. Zip your lips!

So let it be written, so let it be done!

Interesting article but a vehicle with local, delivery-type applications only obviously isn't targeting the US market. I do find myself thinking a lot about my old 85 Toyota Xtra cab with that indestructible 22R engine. For 80% of what many of us do with our trucks, a big four banger gasser in a lighter truck is adequate. And a modern diesel four would be even better!

If somebody gets a smaller crew cab truck to market with at least 6.5 feet of bed and room for four adults, realistically tow three to four thousand pounds with a smallish clean turbodiesel, I believe it would be a runaway hit in the US market. I'd gladly drop my RV size for a handier, more economical tow vehicle given what's available in lightweight camping trailers now.

@JoBlo

My glasses are working fine, maybe you need them

"we found the engines must be tuned and biased for stop-and-start cycles because in the 30 miles we clocked on our short-course test drive, we calculated that we used about two gallons of fuel........."

Why else would they make this statement unless they had a chance to do some stop and go driving? In order to realize that this mini-truck needs to be be tuned they had to of taken it on lots of stop/go driving to see how good/bad the gas milage it was. How do you know if a drag racer needs more tuning? Run it on the drag strip. How did Ford know whether or not the Raptor needed more tuning/adjustment before it went on sale? They probably ran it through an off-road "course" to see how well it did.

Regardless of whether the article said "short course" or "short track" that does not automatically mean they took this thing out to the local high school for 120 laps.

Bob- "Hay" is for horses.
FYI- The F150 is a better all around truck. The 5.4 easily out tows the 5.3 all day long. Let this be written in stone.

I think Honda just found its second generation Ridgeline.. lol.

@ Bob - I've said this before and I'll say it again...Don't you read the crap you post.
- quote" LOU, FRANK are liberals that are jealous of GM."

Which political party was in power for the GM bailout?

To quote Business Week -
"Now, Obama 'Owns' General Motors".

That would make GM a "Liberal" company.

Barrack Obama - Commander and Chief of the military and GMC.

I take it you have delusions of grandeur with your quote:
So let it be written, so let it be done!
We have Bob the Builder and now
"Bob the Pharoah" the ruler of all that is GM.

How's the tattoo?

Bob, Have a wonderful day!

That's an adorable little truck, but at 15 mpg I'll pass. If it could get decent mileage, though, it'd be a cute little guy to toss about.

I have a feeling it would get far better mileage if it had a decent-sized engine. 2.0 liter four-cylinder would probably net it maybe 25 mpg.

But in the end, I'd still prefer a Ranger.

i think my diesel jd gator is safer faster more powerful and gets better mileage. screw the asians!

Put an electric motor in it and this is exactly what the "green" types expect us to pull our 20klb hay trailers behind...

Having been immersed in the pickup truck market for the past 20 years, I saw this article and figured I'd toss my two cents into the hat for consideration.

Apart from getting too carried away with the "green theme", let's step out of the sandpit for a moment and look at what America looks like today:

We have costs going up all around us. Folks are making less and less each year and markets on all levels seem to have retracted. When this happens, green becomes very secondary to the lions share of consumers that are looking for a new delivery vehicle. These folks come around once every 3 to 5 years and when they do today, they're looking for a fit that will do the job as well as not leave them with empty pockets.

I think this probe into the market is smart on a variety of levels:

1. You can buy 3 of these for the cost of an average 6.5' bed pickup.
2. The truck serves a function in the same vein as the Ford Transit which has seen sales increase and prove to be a real winner for Ford.
3. At the risk of seeming cheap, these little pickups have funk appeal, which render them attractive in the same way that we embrace "Shrek" as being cute, rather than hot!
4. These vehicles will certainly cross over form commercial to alternate markets, appealing to 16 year olds as well as customizers and pimps of all kinds.
5. Maintenance seems low, making them great for folks looking for fleets.

I for one believe that America will embrace these vehicles if they are properly endorsed and promoted by viable and recognizable OEM's in the USA.

The fact is that these little vehicles are smarter and far more practical and affordable than many of the "one size fits all" type pickup trucks that we commit to every day.

At some point, the light bulbs will go off and folks like you and I will turn to each other and admit that on this particular point, Japan and Europe have had it right all along.

God bless America for making all things bigger and better. However at this moment, there are more than just a fair mount of folks that will agree that sometimes less is more.

These pickups pronounce this point to me resounding clearly. I can't wait to start seeing a million of these things running around!

You can bet that when they do, we'll be standing by with a wide array of tonneau covers and other related accessories to fill the demand.

Let me know what you think.

Julian Maimin - COO
BAK Industries
www.bakflip.com

There is a guy in my town that has been importing these mini trucks for a few years now. Most of them are early to mid 90's. They are quite popular with some of the farmers in the area. 4x4, 1 ton hauling. Good for chores but thats about it. I have been unfortunate enough to drive one and man do they suck. Left hand drive didn't help either. It was a reg cab unit. Had to replace the clutch on it. 4 guys could have picked this thing up. Put it on a 2 post hoist, pretty nose heavy. Set 2 cummins heads in the box to keep it from tumbling forward off the hoist. Clutch was about 5 inches in diameter. Did I mention that these trucks suck?

You can buy 3 of these gokarts for the price of a 6.5' bed pickup? Prove it. What is the price? When can I buy them and where? You are full of crap just like you are with those cheap tonneau covers you sell.


Do you guys read the story or just thrash the bloggers?
The story said 7,500 dollars.
The location (AS PER THE STORY) - local Ford Fleet and Commercial dealership in Fontana, Calif.,

It was for a 2008 model, 3 years old. It was probably the only one around. Note: "but not any of the major players in this segment in Japan plan to bring these trucks to the U.S." And to check your state to make sure they are legal. When you figure out how to buy 7 new ones of these for the price of one base model F-150 or Ranger, get back to me.

And make sure they are legal before you buy them Lou.

Per the article....
"We also recommend contacting your local department of motor vehicles to find out your state’s exact restrictions and licensing terms."

Its a golf cart.American people are too big to fit into the thing.Make an F-150 get better gas mileage.

"If somebody gets a smaller crew cab truck to market with at least 6.5 feet of bed and room for four adults, realistically tow three to four thousand pounds with a smallish clean turbodiesel, I believe it would be a runaway hit in the US market. I'd gladly drop my RV size for a handier, more economical tow vehicle given what's available in lightweight camping trailers now."
Basically what runs around Australia, except they tow 6,500lb and have 6.5 or much longer bed..

@Bob, Do you ever get sick of writing "so let it be written, so let it be done?" It's getting a little old now.
Look, you're not going to buy any truck, so it really doesn't matter what you like.
That Micro MUT would suit you I think.

@Robert Ryan, the midsize pickups/utes in Australia do not have a 6.5' bed. Much smaller in fact, unless you get a customized flatbed, none of the style sides come close. Less than 5' on a Hilux. The previous model was even smaller. Navara is similar.

How about making a El Camino, Chevy LUV or Dodge M80? There's a lot of room for a smaller pickup truck that isn't this tiny.

Trucks like these are popular all over the world. They're basically a size up from the Cushman's you see in the suburbs hauling trash. They have a great turning radius (almost like a forklift). Great vehicles for ranchers, large nurserys, congested downtowns and, with propane, large industrial buildings and complexes. Can go on highways BUT easily affected by crosswinds, no lungs on inclines (loaded or unloaded), frontal wind resistance at highway speeds eats gas and . . . . you'd be extremely dead if anything bigger than a Smart car hit you.

These things aren't meant to cruise the highway. It it s jobsite or airfield or large business compound kind of vehicle. The military has been using these for more than a few years. Some can have dump beds and 4wd. Some can even be diesels. They work great as onsite maintenance vehicles, onsite service vehicles, and material haulers. As a bonus they take up far less space than a 1/2 ton and cost way less than even a Ranger. You don't need 200hp and a 2000lb payload to accomplish tasks like I listed. Go drive your fullsized truck around starting and stopping it conastantly and get back to us on wear and tear as well as fuel economy. There is a reason they all get around 15mpg city.

BTW I was camping in ME last Labor Day and a a g uy had one of these in his toyhauler as his runavbout vehicle as he was towing with an MDT. It was registed in NH. Was great for running arounf the CG and running errands bout town.

This story is left over from the April 1 folder, right?
On a lighter note...Ford wants anyone interested in this thing to step up to an F-150.

NO I never get sick of writing so let it be written, so let it be done. Fords are BUTT UGLY and Lou, Frank and Alex can bithch and moan all they want but I'm not going anywhere.

The Micro pickup and the Ford F-150 are BUTT UGLY!

SO LET IT BE WRITTEN, SO LET IT BE DONE.

@Bob -
I take it you have delusions of grandeur with your quote:
So let it be written, so let it be done!
We have Bob the Builder and now
"Bob the Pharoah" the ruler of all that is GM.

You must have the "hots" for Yul Brynner..... sick..... really sick.....

I prefer Frank's saying - if you don't like it grab your purse and leave.



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