How Ford is Bringing Back the Small Pickup

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
how ford is bringing back the small pickup

Small pickups aren’t so small anymore. The trucks we today consider mid-size have dimensions that aren’t far off the smallest full-size trucks from the 1990s.

Enter Ford. And soon, Hyundai.

While the Santa Cruz may be the star of the moment, thanks to finally being shown in the flesh after a long tease, the Ford Maverick may actually be the driving force (pun very much intended) behind any future growth in small trucks.

At least in part. The Maverick is an important product to be sure, and its impending arrival probably has forced other automakers to take notice. But it all starts with the growth of full-size trucks, in both size and price.

In other words, if the F-150s of the world hadn’t gotten so big and expensive, the Maverick might not have an opportunity.

We don’t know a lot, in terms of specs, about the Maverick so far, though we know it might have an FX4 trim (usually meant to signify off-road performance) and that it will be narrower, lower, and smaller than the Ranger.

It may also have front-wheel drive and a coil-spring, twist-beam rear suspension that bears similarity to what’s on offer in Ford’s Transit Connect van. All-wheel-drive is a likely possibility.

Size-wise, it may be comparable to the Bronco Sport. Look for unibody construction and a crew-cab configuration.

Although Hyundai took the wraps off the Santa Cruz this week, the Maverick is expected to also be on sale for the 2022 model year. Which means we could see it before the end of 2021.

That also means that there may be more mini-trucks on the way — trucks that are smaller than the current crop of mid-sizers.

We could spend all day speculating on what other brands might do. There are the realistic guesses — could Volkswagen bring the Tarok here? Then there are wilder guesses — what if Subaru brought back the Baja?

Indeed, one analyst we spoke to thought the small-truck market could follow the lead of the crossovers.

“The pickup market has gone haywire in terms of both size and pricing. Small trucks became mid-size trucks while full-size trucks have gotten bigger than ever. In step with that, new pickups in general have become much less affordable as their size and content have increased,” Ed Kim, vice president, industry analysis at AutoPacific, told us.

“I strongly believe there is a significant market for true compact pickups, especially new unit-body models like Santa Cruz and Maverick that blend good capability with a refined CUV-like drive character. These trucks will be more affordable than today’s mid-size models and will also no doubt bring advantages in drive refinement and fuel economy. Their unit-body construction also means they will likely have interiors that are at least as spacious as larger body-on-frame mid-size pickups. Considering that most retail pickup buyers actually use their trucks just like cars, smaller unit-body trucks could really find an audience in the same way unit-body crossover SUVs found an audience over two decades ago, and now represent the vast majority of SUVs today,” Kim said.Only time will tell, but we tend to agree. After all, small trucks like the Maverick or Santa Cruz could prove to be a good solution for homeowners who rarely tow or use their bed, but do so juuuust enough that they decide they need a truck.Say hello to the newest class of the automotive market. Leave it to a Maverick to start a trend.[Images: Ford, Hyundai]

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3 of 57 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 19, 2021

    @el scotto--Disagree small business delivery will not buy a crew cab pickup with a 48 inch bed. If the Maverick were offered in a regular or extended cab the delivery services would be all over it. Ford has already said the Maverick will only be offered in a crew cab. I might be interested in either the Maverick or the Santa Fe but I would have to see both and drive both. I will not buy any vehicle until I drive it.

    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Apr 19, 2021

      Sure some will buy it for delivery, I'm thinking auto parts stores for one. Yeah they would like a regular or extended cab but the Maverick is going to be the cheapest pickup so they are not going to spend more to get a Super Cab Ranger. A lot of the parts ride in the cab anyway.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 19, 2021

    The only way that delivery services would buy a Maverick if it is considerably cheaper than a base Colorado or Tacoma. If the Maverick in at a considerably cheaper then maybe. Many of the delivery services use Colorados, Tacomas, or Chevy Spark with Spark being the cheapest. You can buy a base Tacoma with a rear seat delete for around 24k.

  • SCE to AUX Probably couldn't afford it - happens all the time.
  • MaintenanceCosts An ugly-a$s Challenger with poor equipment choices and an ugly Dealership Default color combination, not even a manual to redeem it, still no sale.
  • Cha65689852 To drive a car, you need human intelligence, not artificial intelligence.Unfortunately, these days even human brains are turning into mush thanks to addiction to smartphones and social media.
  • Mike1041 A nasty uncomfortable little car. Test drove in 2019 in a search for a single car that would appease two drivers. The compromise was not much better but at least it had decent rear vision and cargo capacity. The 2019 Honda HRV simply was too unforgiving and we ditched after 4 years. Enter the 23 HRV and we have a comfy size.
  • SCE to AUX I wonder who really cares about this. "Slave labor" is a useful term for the agendas of both right and left."UAW Wants Auto Industry to Stop Using Slave Labor"... but what will the UAW actually do if nothing changes?With unrelenting downward pressure on costs in every industry - coupled with labor shortages - expect to see more of this.Perhaps it's my fault when I choose the $259 cell phone over the $299 model, or the cheaper parts at RockAuto, or the lower-priced jacket at the store.Do I care about an ethical supply chain? Not really, I just want the product to work - and that's how most consumers are. We'd rather not know.Perhaps the 1990s notion of conflict-free, blood-free, ethically-sourced diamonds will find its way into the auto industry. That would be a good thing.