By on July 1, 2021

Outside of the Bronco, Ford’s Maverick has gotten a lot of attention recently. And Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is upcoming — media drives are set for August.

This got me thinking — if we’re on the cusp of a return to truly “compact” trucks (well, relatively compact), which other brands should be getting in on the action, and soon?

There’s not much more preamble needed — the premise here is obvious. So let’s dive in, shall we?

  • Ram: This is the most obvious choice. Shall the Dakota return as a Maverick fighter? One can only hope. The rumor mill is mixed on this one — Car and Driver reported the return of the Dakota as a given early last year, but Motor1 reported in February that the project is now dead. That doesn’t mean C/D was peddling “fake news” — it’s possible the project was a go when the boys in Ann Arbor wrote it up and the kibosh came later. Nonetheless, Ram would seem an obvious choice for a true compact. The brand doesn’t even have a mid-size at the moment, though. So maybe Ram needs two models here — a Dakota as either the compact or mid-size, and a new nameplate filling the other gap.
  • Volkswagen: VW isn’t a logical target for a small truck in the U.S. market, but it has shown prototypes of the Tanoak and Tarok and has offered the Ranger-based Amarok in other markets. Could it finally build a Tanoak or Tarok?
  • Kia: Only because if Hyundai is doing it, it would be easy for the brand to borrow from its corporate sibling. How about the Kia San Jose?
  • Subaru: Bring back the Baja! Enough said.
  • Chevrolet/GMC: Leave it to GM to bring back the Syclone name, but on a mainstream compact pickup as opposed to a high-performance street machine. Given how the Malibu and Impala names most recently adorned boring mainstream sedans, with nary an SS to be found, I’d bet my meager savings on this.
  • Porsche: Just checking to see if you’re still reading. Though I wouldn’t put it past them.
  • Land Rover: Imagine a small truck that borrows styling and the base engine from the Defender and costs $49,995 at base and $85K well-equipped. I bet you JLR execs already are. Hey, celebs would totally buy that thing.
  • Mercedes-Benz: Don’t laugh, the brand has the X-Class elsewhere.
  • Nissan: A return to the roots with a sub-Frontier-sized pick ’em up?
  • Toyota: A truck tinier than Tacoma with Toyota badging and reliability could be a hot seller.
  • Honda: The Ridgeline is so damn good. A smaller Ridgeline could be fantastic.

Obviously, not all of these hypothetical trucks are likely to ever see the light of day. I’d put money on any OEM that has existing product — or even concepts — but not much. Automakers tend to be risk-averse these days, given how much a new-car design and launch costs. That said, if the Maverick and Santa Cruz set dealerships on fire, it wouldn’t be surprising to see other automakers scramble to follow suit.

[Image: Hyundai]

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46 Comments on “The Brands That Need Small Trucks...”

  • avatar

    Just give us the flatbeds and long beds like they have down under. So sick of crew cab + short beds.

  • avatar

    Honda’s already been thinking about this…

  • avatar

    I’ve always thought that Kia might have missed creating a market niche by not making a Soul pickup, or a pickup cosmetically resembling a Soul when the vehicle was introduced in its 1st or 2nd generation.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Ram 700 compact pickup or what they call a subcompact pickup has been planned. It’s a size below the Mitsubishi mid sized truck which was also badged as the Fiat Fullback.

    Though with Stellantis it might be delayed or replaced with a Peugeot based version.

  • avatar

    Ram -> Billy goat?
    VW Amarok, actually all Australia utes, just bring them over.
    Kia meh, but good for them.
    Subaru, agreed.
    Chevy…… El Camino reboot? Business in the front, party in the back.
    Porsche Traycan by Adel Bouras?
    Land Rover, disagree. Mini cooper. Yes.
    Mercedes agreed.
    Nissan hardbody, agreed.
    Toyota, there was a teased/April fools Yaris truck a couple of years ago.
    Honda – Element reboot with a pickup bed?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Good list.

    RAM, GM, and Subie have the most to lose by *not* doing this. The Subaru wouldn’t be marketed for utility, but for love of dogs or something.

    Nissan is resource-strapped, and being very careful about new products. I don’t see them trying.

    Maybe Toyota, but a small Toyota truck would cannibalize the Tacoma. But if it was a hybrid…

    Kia won’t do it – too much product overlap in a very small market opportunity for H/K.

    JLR – not a chance. They’re fighting for their lives; a small truck will only bleed them out of resources.

    • 0 avatar

      Whatever happened to the Mahindra trucks that were going to import to the US and cost 10K. Makes sense that farm equipment maker would be great at making a utilitarian truck. It is sort of what the market needs considering the bloat that has become of American trucks.

      • 0 avatar

        I think that ship has sailed hit an iceberg, caught fire and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The postal vehicle was supposed to help establish the brand in America with help of the Roxor. Mahindra was not picked for the postal vehicle and the Roxor has had problems of its own.

        That said, I would love to see Mahindra in the mix or possibly the Bremach Brio

  • avatar

    So many possibilities…

    For Kia, H/K could take advantage and make the Kia version more utilitarian and available with a different configuration/feature set to reduce its cannibalizing of Santa Cruz sales.

    For Chevy, Perhaps an updated South American market Montana would suffice as long as it no longer looks like half of a Chevy Spark with a bed attached. Many would love to see an actual El Camino-style ute, but I wouldn’t hold my breath unless GM decides Buick needs to sell something else besides overpriced CUVs.

    Toyota and Nissan 2 door/2WD Tacomas and Frontiers were pretty smallish until recently so it shouldn’t be a stretch to bring those back.

    Stellantis already has a meaty-looking compact Peugeot branded truck called the Landtrek so they could federalize and tweak its design for the Ram brand.

    Subaru already failed with a compact pickup truck twice. Do they really need to try again?

  • avatar

    I don’t know how they’d do it, but a little truck from Mitsubishi could save the brand from extinction in the US.

  • avatar

    Some of these brands do not have manufacturing facilities in North America. Thanks, Chicken Tax!

  • avatar

    *Mazda* says, “What am I, chopped liver?”

    Mazda needs to do something to hold on to relevance, a small truck might be just the ticket. It’s not like they’ve never been there before… Oh, wait I guess they’re already there, but not here in north America

  • avatar

    I don’t think the question is WHO should do a compact truck, but IF they should do one. Fullsizers seem to fill enough truck needs in this market that I think it’s about chasing niches:
    – The small-cab big-bed utility market. Basically the open version of the Transit Connect. It’s sad that all the tiny 70s pickups still have longer beds than even a fullsize crewcab.
    – The subcompact cheap-car replacement. IIRC Ford implied that’s one of the use cases for the Maverick, and its base price reflects that (doesn’t it even undercut the EcoSport?). Mazda used to promote how cheap the B2000 was in the 80s.

    So assuming those markets exist or can be created (in the US; most south-of-the-equator markets seem to have em already) I can see more players jumping in.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Pick-ups are to a degree replacements for the full size domestic sedans of the past. They provide the size/heft/image that some consumers desire.

    A significant number primarily carry as per yesterday’s column ‘sailboat fuel’. So the size of the bed is not a primary buying/selling point.

    A large cab is required to carry the family/friends. So a regular cab actually decreases a pickup’s market.

    The majority of North Americans live in cities. The cities are usually congested. So a smaller vehicle can be preferable.

    SUVs/CUVs are big sellers. And a primary selling point is their ‘ride height’.

    Seems to me that a ‘small’ pick-up therefore has a considerable market just waiting.

    • 0 avatar

      Well if you got occasionally 4 or 5 passengers and a regular cab, that’s a problem. Got a 5.5 ft bed and 8 to 10 ft of materials, furniture, etc? It just takes rope, straps, etc. I prefer a “pro” fishing net and bungees, ready for about anything.

      But we’re seeing a “market shift”, or even revolt, away from many things/segments, over to pickups (of all sizes).

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Denver: Agree. That is why a ‘regular’ cab is very much a ‘no go’. I did not realize just how often you require extra seats until a Corvette was my daily driver/only working vehicle. More often than not I had to park the ‘vette and rode in someone’s Dart or VW Beetle instead.

  • avatar

    Subaru and RAM are the clear ones that need to move on this. Followed by GM and VW. Nissan and Toyota are the last ones I expect to jump on this bandwagon.

    I wonder how many OEM are in “wait-n-see” mode. To me this is a no-brainer market if you follow the logic that pickups = popular and CUV = popular, thus a CUV based pickup has got to be a homerun. However the Ridgeline has never really caught on so maybe this jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type vehicle can’t pull in buyers from either side.

    Personally I can’t wait to test drive a Santa Cruz, its what I’ve been wanting for years: drives like a car, yet can haul stuff like a truck.

  • avatar

    Nissan. The only path for Nissan to regain any brand equity is to double down on the cheerful part of cheap ‘n’ cheerful, and there’s little that’s more cheerful than small trucks.

    No other brand needs one remotely as much.

  • avatar

    As much as there might be a want/need for a small 2-seat pickup (or one with jump seats in the back), in this safety-regulated environment, can they ever return? I recall the crash tests for the old Ranger, S-10, and smaller Taco being nothing short of catastrophic. As in, you ain’t limping away from that one!!! Add the extra structure to make them safer, then you add weight, which needs larger engines, which needs larger space under the hood, plus pedestrian safety, and so on, and by that time, you’re at the size of today’s Frontier, Ranger, and Taco.

    But to answer the question, two come to mind right away:

    Nissan. Gen X and older still fondly remember the era of the Nissan Hardbody and if it didn’t rust away on you, it wasn’t going to die on you. Find a way to make a smaller than Frontier pickup tough as nails, put that name on it, and don’t forget to make it good and affordable, and it might print money.

    VW. They already have the smaller trucks in other markets. Not sure how they would fare with what the US requires, but I can imagine that the Euro-spec standards aren’t too loose as well.

    As I wrote in another thread earlier in the week, I am starting to wonder if certain groups of buyers are starting to look at different kinds of vehicles for their next purchase and leave the generic CUV behind. Things go in cycles. We’ve had around 20 years of all things CUVs, and that tends to be the lifespan of certain trends. I agree with what was written earlier that CUVs might replace some sedans, especially as the Boomers continue to age and the oldest Gen X-ers hit 50, but are the current 18-23 year olds who grew up in the back of a CUV going to want the same thing when they can afford it? Diverse lineups are still how to continue to sell vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      You’re right about those old trucks, but safety has come a long way since those days. Actually, for a while even the F-150 failed the 1/4-offset impact test for a while until it was upgraded.

      I would suppose the new Santa Cruz and Maverick do pretty well, safety-wise. Mfrs have learned a lot from building CUVs.

  • avatar

    Mitsubishi – L200/Triton is needed.

  • avatar

    As far as genuinely well packaged and innovative, while really compact, “urban” sized, trucks go: I’d love to see one from either Fiat or Suzuki. They’re the masters at big utility in compact packages.

    Honda is as well (they can fit seemingly half a football field in a Kei), but they’ve given up on compact in America, and aren’t into work vehicles anywhere. “Asian” compact, is also a bot to compact, even by Mediterranean standards. So, Fiat it is. Although there is legitimate concern that virtually no amount of clever engineering, can overcome the less than “hardworking” reputation they have built up over here.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Fiat is a good call, if they haven’t already decided to leave the US market. At this point, they have only 286 *new* vehicles for sale nationwide, and 118 of them are 2021 models. I think they’re toast.

      “Hardworking” – I’m not sure the next-gen small trucks need this label, which is why I think Subaru (and maybe Fiat, as you suggest) could succeed in this space. Many buyers will regard small trucks as the latest incarnation of Compact Utility Vehicles, while rejecting the macho image of full-size trucks.

  • avatar

    FCA has had this vehicle outside the US for years, FIAT Strada.

  • avatar

    Meet the RAM 1000 (aka FIAT Toro)

    And Chevy has just announced that a new Montana is on the way which will now be about the same size of Toro/Maverick/Santa Cruz.

  • avatar

    Ram: No brainer – Stellanis is tight on money and is looking hard at what brands to cut and consolidate so I don’t see this happening in the next couple of model years – I mean TECHNICALLY they have one with the Wrangler

    Volkswagen: I don’t know

    Kia: I don’t think this fits Kia’s brand direction, which is trying to be more like Acura-Buick-Mazda

    Chevrolet/GMC: No brainer – and they have options. Something smaller than the Maverick with an Avalanche style Midgate to offer more utility would be a license to print money IF they don’t half @$$ it and if they market it right. Ironically, the Pontiac Zeta based sport truck would likely sell stupid well in today’s climate – the platform would be too dated today, the brand is dead, but an El Camino style truck with some real cargo capability would sell stupid well. Hmmmm…seems Chevy could do something El Caminoish and GMC could do a trucklet under the Canyon with the Midgate.

    Land Rover: Interesting – one of the only lux brands I could see pulling something off

    Nissan: Another brand that doesn’t have a lot of R&D dollars to invest – a FWD pickup truck with a Nissan CVT – no thanks

    Honda: The Ridgeline may be good but it has never really sold – I just don’t see this fitting in the portfolio

    Toyota: License to print money – seriously – people will be lined up screaming shut up and take my money

    Subaru: The Baja was a complete and total flop answering a question no one asked. The bed was more useless than Ford Explorer SporTrac and you paid extra for the privilege of owning an Outback with the cargo area chopped off. It’s too niche – the Baja deserves to be forgotten to time.

    Mazda – sure they ended up partnering with Ford for the B-series – but I don’t think Mazda should be left off this list. Don’t know if they have the R&D budget and if it would fit with their direction (like Kia)

    • 0 avatar

      We need to keep it down. The Chinese are making all sorts of inexpensive trucks. We’ve been Walmarted and Amazonned enough already. Once they figure out how to make them meet first-world safety standards, they will undercut even Kia.
      That won’t be too much of a change from now, when you think about it. GM vehicles are made of Chinese parts, and some of them are 100% sourced from the other side of the globe.

      • 0 avatar

        News flash – most of the world semiconductors come from Taiwan and Korea.

        What vehicle on the planet today doesn’t have Chinese parts…and….GO.

  • avatar

    Toyota Pixis Truck? (aka Daihatsu Hijet)

    I know, no way it will pass the US safety standards, but we can always dream.
    11 1/2 feet truck with a 6 1/3 feet bed. Should be super practical.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Mitsubishi would need a mini truck the most since they are barely hanging on. A mini truck would make Mitsubishi relevant again. How about calling it a Mini Max or even a Mighty Max. Price it cheaper than the Maverick and give it a 5 year warranty and it would sell.

  • avatar
    Polka King

    I’d like a Datsun.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Datsun would be good but I doubt Nissan will revive the brand in America. I doubt Nissan would be able to bring back a truck based on the Hardbody or early models especially with the current safety and MPG standards but those were great trucks.

  • avatar

    Its curious as to why Toyota dont sell the Hilux in the US market. In other markets it’s available as a long and short bed single cab or as a double cab. Fiat sell the L200 based Fullback in other parts of the world and Mazda sell the Ranger based BT-50. In the rest of the world the Ranger is considered really big. Until a few years ago Ford sold a Fiesta based small pickup called the Bantam in South Africa that was rated to carry 1100 pounds in the bed. The Hilux, Ranger, BT-50, Fullback and L200 are all made to take 2000 pound loads. It seems like trucks such as the Tacoma cant haul as much weight as the Hilux even though it’s a full size vs a midsize truck.

  • avatar

    There are no small trucks, your choices are “huge” or “gigantic”.

    Would you like to super size your pickup today?

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