Is it just our imagination or is there more buzz about the small-truck segment? Sure, companies like Ford (with the Ranger) and Ram (with the Dakota) have walked away from the marketplace in the last 18 months, but with fuel prices fluctuating and average fuel economy becoming more important, we can't help but think there's a big opportunity here for some company.
At the recent Chicago Auto Show we talked to Ford executives about the possibility of a smaller, entry-level pickup truck making sense in a changing U.S. market. Of course, that got us speculating about the use of the new unibody platform used in the Transit Connect and Transit, both of which are already slated for U.S. consumption. Ford's position always has been clear though: With the strong and efficient F-150 V-6 - in many cases outperforming midsize truck capability and fuel economy - there is no real demand for another midsize pickup. But what if that demand was hidden, and what if there was a way to price a new, smaller truck competitively?
Of course, Ford already has a popular global platform in the Ranger, which can be outfitted as a solid, bare-bones midsize pickup truck. As noted, Ford has been consistent about why bringing the global Ranger to the U.S. doesn't make sense. Simply put, the Ranger is too big and too strong, which is fine for markets that don't offer the F-150 but not so good for the U.S.
Recently we heard about a global Ranger sitting at the offices of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade association made up of companies that make or sell aftermarket automotive parts (these are the people who put on the SEMA Show). SEMA bought the Ranger so it would be available for members who might want to make parts for it and sell them overseas. We paid SEMA a visit to see what all the fuss is about since we haven't seen a new Ranger since the redesign in 2011.
During the visit we took quite a few photos and had a chance to place it next to a 2013 Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4x2 shortbed. The Ranger is definitely smaller, but not by much, and it gave us a good idea about its size. As with many other midsize pickups in the U.S., it looks like the size inflation that took compact pickups into the midsize category could eventually take them from midsize to full size if manufacturers are not careful.
Still, by stripping a little content and repackaging a few existing powertrain options, it's difficult to believe this platform couldn't once again be a solid player in the segment. Whether Ford decides to push for something new on a unibody platform — possibly redefining what a small pickup truck can be — or whether it adapts the global Ranger into an F-100, for example, we assume it will largely depend on how the bean counters make the business case. Either way, it could be good for those of us looking for a strong, economical and fuel-efficient way to carry and haul a decently sized load.
For more photos of the Global Ranger, go to our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pickuptrucksdotcom.