The Wall Street Journal‘s recent article on compact pickup trucks and rising gas prices has raised the tantalizing prospect of a return to the glory days of the compact pickups. But from what we hear, it would be premature to get your hopes up just yet.
So far, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon have been confirmed for sale in the United States – and that’s it. So what about the rumors of more compacts from Ford, Ram and even VW?
The common thread, as far as smaller pickups with improved fuel-efficiency and footprint, is that they are hard to justify. These days, $1 billion is the minimum cost of entry for developing a new model. Homologating a model to FMVSS standards is said to cost at least $50 million (a figure quoted for the Lotus Elise, which still managed to get an airbag waiver from NHTSA, doubtlessly saving tens of millions of dollars). There is no way to do it on the cheap, and that remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the OEMs. That and CAFE. And the chicken tax.
In addition, full-size trucks have become cheap enough that the idea of an affordable compact truck now seems redundant. America doesn’t have the same space constraints that Europe, Asia and South American cities do, so something with a smaller physical footprint doesn’t have the same appeal in the USA. And don’t forget any compact truck must be a global product in today’s market.
GM is in a unique position with the Colorado and Canyon, having been developed with global sales in mind – much of the development work was done in Thailand (the world’s second biggest pickup truck market), but the vehicle is ready to go for sale in the USA. The global Ford Ranger on the other hand, is about 90 percent of the F-150’s size, meaning it is too close in size and price to be sold here. It’s also not coming here due to the costs of certifying it. Ram may yet launch a “lifestyle” unibody truck, but again, the Ram’s new V6 fuel economy, lower price and all-around appeal is doing a good job of negating any benefits from selling a unibody truck.
But there is a ray of sunshine for compact truck enthusiasts. We already have two great mid-size trucks, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, on sale right now. Of course, in the rush to covet product that we cannot buy in America, we forget about what’s already in front of us.