2016 Was The Year Midsize Pickup Trucks Fought Back

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
2016 was the year midsize pickup trucks fought back

Five members strong, America’s midsize pickup truck sector reported nearly 450,000 sales in 2016.

After claiming only 11 percent of the overall pickup truck market’s volume in 2013 and 2014 and 14 percent in 2015, 17 percent of all pickup truck sales in 2016 were produced by the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon, and Honda Ridgeline.

Midsize pickup truck sales growth wildly outperformed the overall auto industry in 2016, leaping forward nine times faster than the full-size truck sector, year-over-year.

Every candidate got in on the action, but one truck in particular did more than its fair share of the heavy lifting.

Toyota reported 191,631 Tacoma sales in the United States in 2016, an all-time record for America’s class-leading midsize pickup.

The health of America’s pickup truck category was a major story in 2016. Yet while the auto industry reported record annual sales, only two truck nameplates did so. (The other, Ram’s P/U line, jumped 9 percent to 489,418 units.) Truck sales are healthy, but total truck volume is still down 17 percent from 2005 levels. Pickups accounted for 15 percent of the overall industry’s volume in 2016, not 19 percent as in 2005.

The Tacoma, despite reporting less noteworthy year-over-year percentage growth than its rivals in 2016, was the only midsize pickup to report an all-time annual sales record.

We reported in August that the Tacoma was so popular that production in San Antonio, Texas, and Tijuana, Baja California, had maxed out. By September, we learned Toyota was investing $150 million to dramatically increase production at the truck’s Mexican facility.

The Tacoma’s 191,631-unit record in 2016 translates to 43 percent of the midsize truck market.

But don’t mistake the dearth of record-setting performances from the Tacoma’s competitors as a sign of poor results.

At the bottom of the heap, Honda Ridgeline sales rose to 23,667 units, the best annual result for the Ridgeline since 2008. Yet the Ridgeline was not truly available until the second-half of 2016. Annualizing the Honda’s fourth-quarter performance, Ridgeline sales would have totaled nearly 44,000 units in 2016. While an admittedly low-volume number in comparison with the Ford F-Series, it would have ranked as the Ridgeline’s second-best year ever.

Ridgeline sales, meanwhile, are still on the rise. December was the second-generation Ridgeline’s best month yet.

Elsewhere, after TTAC suggested in July that Nissan was selling Frontiers “like it’s 2006,” Nissan ramped it up. By the end of 2016, annual Frontier volume jumped to a 15-year high of 86,926 sales. Compared with 2015, Frontier sales were up 38 percent, buoyed by the absence of a regular-duty Titan in Nissan showrooms for much of the year. Frontier sales have more than doubled since 2010.

At General Motors, the overall top seller of pickup trucks in America in each of the last two years, small/midsize pickup truck volume climbed to an 11-year high of 146,174 units, well in excess of early expectations. Three-quarters of GM’s non-full-size truck sales were Colorado-derived.

Total Colorado/Canyon volume jumped 28 percent compared with 2015, the first full year of the relaunched trucks. The GM duo now owns just under one-third of the midsize truck market.

Overall, small/midsize pickup volume in 2016 rose to the highest level since 2007, when trucks that aren’t available now — Ranger, Dakota, Raider, i-Series, B-Series — owned more than a quarter of the segment.

After midsize pickups fought back in 2016, Ford announced in the second week of 2017 that the Ranger will return in two years. Mitsubishi dealers are crying out for the import of the Triton, seven years after the last Dodge Dakota-based Mitsubishi Raider was sold. We’re expecting a Jeep Wrangler pickup in the next year or so, as well.

There’s plenty of reason to believe, therefore, that midsize pickups will continue to fight back in the next 12, 24, and 36 months.

Just don’t expect the Isuzu i-280 to reappear anytime soon.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Jan 23, 2017

    Most people who want to just commute in their pickup, and very occasionally haul something really need an El Camino. GM could build one out of the Impala with heavy duty rear coils and a 1/4 ton rating, and have a big seller.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jan 24, 2017

      Lorenzo - unless someone makes an AWD 4 door El Camino, no one is going to buy it other than brown diesel manual tranny wagon buyers.

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jan 23, 2017

    I didn't even read the replies but let me take this opportunity to tell the other Al to shove it

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jan 24, 2017

      @Big Al From 'Murica - considering all of the political bickering, it is refreshing to argue about pickups with BAFO.

  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.
  • K. R. Worth noting that the climate control is shared with (donated to) the Audi 5000 of the mid-late 1980s.
  • Sloomis Looks like 108,000 miles to me, not 80,000. Not much better though...