A Return To Compact Pickups? Don't Count On It

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
a return to compact pickups don t count on it

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.

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  • DenverMike DenverMike on Mar 14, 2013

    @Big Al from Oz - Did you just talk about yourself in the 3rd person??? "People involved in this debate were: DENVERMIKE DocOlds Niky Robert Ryan Big Al from Oz"...

  • Mikehgl Mikehgl on Mar 14, 2013

    C'mon people. Talk about staying on topic... Lets talk about the topic and not who's providing proof for this argument or that. Is this a court case or a thread? Anyways, It's nice to see the abundance of attention to this topic, what with some 135 replies to this subject. That fact right there shows the amount of interest there is out there in a so-called "compact" pickup. Or mid - size. It seems the compact pickup will never return to the states, which is a travesty. For me, there is no viable product available right now in the mid-size segment. Toyota is ruled out via my rustbelt GM DNA (I grew up in Saginaw, MI)If I purchased a Toyota there would be some hostile extended family members, and I can do without that sh**storm. The current version of the Colorado/ Canyon is fundamentally flawed, and I refuse to buy one. Expensive (that probably will not change), poor engine choices, lousy m.p.g., dated platform and an awful interior that I cannot justify paying that kind of money for. I had a Dakota for 11 years and used it up. Waiting...

    • See 12 previous
    • DenverMike DenverMike on Mar 17, 2013

      @RobertRyan - There is a market for global trucks in the US, but it's not what you think it is. It's demand is mostly for base regular cab strippers with gas engines. This isn't a good business model for OEMs. Especially if they already sell cars here in the US which would get cannibalized. Global OEMs are more than hesitant to come to the US for good reason. Chrysler has been kicking around the idea of a mid-size truck since '09, but there's nothing in the design/concept pipeline. GM? GM is GM.. If GM wants what's left of the Ranger and Sport Trac market, they're more than welcome. Their Colorado/Canyon will certainly cannibalize their own cars and mid-size SUVs as well as Full-size Silverados/Sierras/Tahoes. I understand GM is looking to put more butts in smaller trucks for CAFE reasons and NOT for the sake of profits. GM is GM. As we saw, Sport Trac sales were less than brisk. There will always be those that prefer a cute and adorable crew cab pickup over a real truck, but it's a weak business model for the US market. Yes, there are those that don't mind spending 'FULL-size' money on a mid-size with FULL-size MPG, but don't expect a mad dash. That's well and good, BUT even if you don't realize it, full-size truck drivetrains (and brakes) are overbuilt and can take a daily pounding by service industries, contractors etc. Cute utes wouldn't stand a chance performing the same daily hauling and towing tasks. They're simply not designed for it any more than mid-size SUVs. You're talking blown head gaskets, blown transmissions and of course, rear ends. I realize if you didn't grow up around 1/2 tons (and up) you don't see a difference between them and mid-size "cute utes" other than they have about 1/2 the payload and towing of real pickups. But ask anyone here that's put both to hard work. There's absolutely no comparison. Global OEMs are way ahead of you on this one and know the US market won't be fooled. Bring on all the base strippers though. We can't get enough of those!

  • ToolGuy "We're marking the anniversary of the time Robert Farago started the GM death watch and called for the company to die."• No, we aren't. Robert Farago wrote that in April 2005. It was reposted in 2009 on the eve of the actual bankruptcy filing.The byline dates are sometimes strange/off with the site revisions (and the 'this is a repost' note got lost), but the date string in the link is correct (...2005/04...). Posting about GM bankruptcy in 2005 was a slightly more difficult call than doing it in 2009.-- The Truth About Calendars
  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.
  • Wjtinfwb Always liked these MN12 cars and the subsequent Lincoln variant. But Ford, apparently strapped for resources or cash, introduced these half-baked. Very sophisticated chassis and styling, let down but antiquated old pushrod engines and cheap interiors. The 4.6L Modular V8 helped a bit, no faster than the 5.0 but extremely smooth and quiet. The interior came next, nicer wrap-around dash, airbags instead of the mouse belts and refined exterior styling. The Supercharged 3.8L V6 was potent, but kind of crude and had an appetite for head gaskets early on. Most were bolted to the AOD automatic, a sturdy but slow shifting gearbox made much better with electronic controls in the later days. Nice cars that in the right color, evoked the 6 series BMW, at least the Thunderbird did. Could have been great cars and maybe should have been a swoopy CLS style sedan. Pretty hard to find a decent one these days.