Return of the pint-sized pickup
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Having lived in Montana for two years, I know there are a select few out there who still utilize the capabilities of these admittedly impressive machines on a daily basis. But for those of you who want the tough look and feeling of owning the road that a truck provides but spend most of your time making runs to Costco and driving to the mountains on the weekend, there were few alternatives besides the current crop of enormous full-size trucks or selecting between the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, both trucks that hadn't been updated significantly in nearly a decade. Thankfully, that's about to change.
In recent months and years, it seems all of the major manufacturers have either rolled out new mid-sized trucks, heavily revamped an existing model, or released plans for new mid-sized trucks to enter production within the next 2 years. In 2015, Chevrolet and GMC released new versions of the Colorado and Canyon, respectively, to rave reviews and even had the beautiful thought of offering a diesel. 30+ mpg in a small pickup? YES PLEASE! I was not alone in my enthusiasm for this truck. Over 100k Colorados and Canyons were sold in 2015, exceeding expectations and keeping dealer lots bare (sales data from GoodCarBadCar.net).
You might say, "well sure, GM finally came out with a revamped truck that had all the modern amenities and must have just cannibalized Toyota Tacoma sales". To that I say, let's look at the numbers. In 2015, Toyota still managed to sell 180k Tacomas, a 15% increase over the previous year. Basically, in a year, mid-size truck sales appear to have doubled.
Others are taking notice. Jeep unveiled the Wrangler Pickup with promises to reach production by late 2017. Honda just revealed the second generation Ridgeline. Riding on a unibody car platform, it rides smoother and gets better fuel economy but maintains the majority of hauling capability that most users will ever need. Hyundai appears to be following this tack, unveiling the Santa Cruz with room for 4 and a concept suggesting an extendable bed to make room for all your toys despite its compact standard dimensions. Even Ford is considering bringing the Ranger back to the U.S., which is still sold abroad.
What's perhaps best of all is this means competition. Most will agree that with so little competition since the turn of the millennia, Toyota grew complacent with the Tacoma. It was still a solid, reliable truck but it failed to keep up with the innovation and development that was taking hold, perhaps most obviously, in the full-size truck market. Toyota recognized the threat the new GM pair posed and released a refreshed Tacoma last fall.
It seems to me these small trucks are following the trend that crossovers have. Namely, there's been a push for more comfort and luxury in a smaller package that gets better fuel economy than their larger brethren. Although the full-size truck market shows no signs of slowing down, perhaps there are simply more people looking for a fun, versatile vehicle that can get them to a rural trailhead or carry all their gear comfortably. Subaru has been cashing in on that goldmine for years.
All this is to say, I'm excited. As the owner of a 2nd gen Tacoma, I love the size and capability of that truck. Although I'm sad many of these new trucks will not offer a good old-fashioned manual transmission (got to love the old dog Nissan for carrying on the V6-6-speed manual tradition), most people will find the greater comfort, power and feature content more than tempting enough. And I imagine as more options become available, more people will realize they don't need a truck as big as an F-150, Ram or Silverado.
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