It seems that the Wall Street Journal understands the pickup truck market better than you might think. In a recent blog post, Jonathan Welsh questioned whether the Honda Ridgeline will really stick around, even though Honda’s SUV and truck product planner said the midsize pickup isn’t going anywhere.
Frankly, all this seems a little odd given the Ridgeline hasn’t gotten any significant redesign or engineering upgrades since it was introduced in 2005 for the 2006 model year. Add to that the fact the sales numbers are about half of what they were a year ago — only 6,500 sold so far this year, and I’m sure the earthquake in Japan didn’t help — and it seems like there’s a pretty good case for removing the Ridgeline from Honda’s lineup.
Still, Honda seems reluctant to give up on it because some say this should be the best time for the vehicle to succeed. Fuel prices are unstable and high, full-size pickup trucks continue to be targets of politically correct pundits, and the Ridgeline doesn’t have an imposing, overly aggressive stance. Plus, it has a cool bed, and the interior isn’t too “trucky.”
To some, the Ridgeline appears to have a lot going for it. So why isn’t it selling?
The Ridgeline is one of those odd vehicles that attempt to play in a segment while assuming those they play with have it all wrong — sort of like pretending to be something it’s not. (Vehicles like the new Ford Explorer, Pontiac Aztek and Subaru Baja come to mind). The Ridgeline can’t really tow well, it can’t really carry a heavy load well, and it can’t be beaten up too hard.
In short, the Ridgeline can’t really do what most people who like trucks need it to do. It’s almost like it’s a pickup made for people who don’t like pickups. Talk about your self-hater.
Still, in the world of midsize pickup trucks, it keeps hanging on, and there seems to be a place for it. At least that’s what we’re hearing when listening to other product planners at rival manufacturers.
Ram CEO Fred Diaz — the guy who had to make the call to allow the Dodge Dakota to die — says he hasn’t taken any option off the table as Ram discusses whether or not to offer another midsize or smaller pickup. Certainly, with Jeep coming to market with its own small pickup truck platform in the family, the parts and pieces may be relatively inexpensive to reshape and/or redesign. For a while, Ram was also talking about trying to “Ram-ify” or “heavy-duty-ize” a minivan platform to offer something more versatile than the old-school Dakota. It wasn’t too long ago when we saw the Dodge Rampage (pictured below) on stage.
Several years ago, Toyota showed the A-BAT concept, a vehicle that wanted to straddle the pickup/crossover/wagon delineations. We’ve heard several strong rumors that the A-BAT will see the light of day, but more likely with a Scion or Prius badge rather than a Toyota or Lexus marque.
We have no doubt there’s likely to be a group of people that still wants a small pickup that doesn’t look, act, drive or work like a pickup truck. Lord knows the truck-haters out there keep telling us that.
Welsh, who doesn’t believe the Ridgeline will be around for very long, said it pretty well. “Pickup trucks, after all, aren’t for the driving we do, but for the driving we wish we did.” I would add that they’re also for the work we actually — or even occasionally — have to do.
“For many weekend warriors, the truck’s purpose is to project an image of capability when they pull into the Home Depot parking lot. Perhaps if the Honda had a more imposing stance, the trick would have worked,” Welsh said. Alright, so maybe Jonathan doesn’t really understand pickups.
Owning a pickup is not just about projecting an image or having an imposing stance or worrying or even thinking about what other judgments others might make. It’s about having the right tool for the job. However, if you want others to know you don’t do much work or don’t really need a pickup, I defend your right with my last breath that you should be able to choose what you want. Perhaps a new crop of anti-truck trucks may be just right for you. And when they get here, you can bet we’ll test the snot out of them.