Does the small or midsize truck make sense anymore?
Long a favorite of small-business tradesmen and young sportsman who like them to haul bicycles, dirt bikes and kayaks, the future of this kind of truck is a tough one to predict while nearly every automaker studies what to do.
Since the mid-1990s, midsize trucks have been declining in popularity for a variety of reasons. As automakers continue to make their larger pickups more and more fuel efficient, a major selling point for smaller trucks has become obsolete. And as consumers have demanded more features in midsize trucks, they are no longer a cheap alternative.
Chrysler has let its Dodge Dakota truck die off, and Ford has let the Ranger pickup disappear from U.S. showrooms, though it still sells it abroad in developing countries. Chrysler plans to try and recapture some buyers--who tend to be tradespeople like carpenters and painters--with a future pickup based on the Jeep Wrangler. And Ford has been trying to get Ranger buyers to trade up to a Ford F150 or its Transit Connect small panel van.
Traditionally, an automaker only keeps about 40% of the previous buyer of a discontinued model, reports the The Detroit News. The paper also reports that a canvassing of shopper sites like AOL Autos, Edmunds.com and from TrueCar.com that Ranger owners are looking at F150 trucks, the new Ford Escape, as well as as the small truck offerings left, like the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma.
Indeed, those who relish the small and mid-sized truck do have some choices left, and even a few new ones on the way.
Click through to get a glimpse of the current state of midsize trucks and decide for yourself if you think there is still a place for them.
Chrysler killed the Ram Dakota in August 2011, after selling only 13,000 of them last year (Chrysler sold 177,000 in 2000).
Recently, however, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has hinted that the midsize truck could make a return on a unibody chassis created by the Chrysler-Fiat alliance, giving it an edge in fuel-efficiency over its competition. Marchionne also said that the new Dakota would come with a diesel engine, which would be a huge differentiator from the rest of the segment.
It's an interesting idea. A small, lightweight diesel-powered truck could find a place here in the U.S., if executed properly.
The Ranger and Toyota Tacoma are probably the best-known midsize trucks, which was long reflected in their monthly sales numbers. But, unfortunately for the Ranger, those numbers just weren't good enough.
Ford killed the Ranger in 2011. After years of neglect and a steady decline in sales, the American automaker just couldn't make the case for its future here in the states, though it once had been an integral part of its lineup.
The Ranger will continue to be sold abroad, in the form that you see pictured here, manufactured in Thailand, South Africa and South America.
General Motors seems to see a future for midsize trucks in the U.S., evidenced by its completely redesigned Colorado, which was confirmed for the American market last fall. However, we don't really know when production will start or what kind of drivetrains will be available.
We do know that the new Colorado looks good and will be facing a lot less competition now that the Dakota and Ranger have exited the market.
The future of the GMC Canyon is still uncertain. While the Colorado has enjoyed a major overhaul, GM hasn't said whether or not GMC's smaller truck (which is currently almost the same exact vehicle as the Colorado, save the badge) will get the same.
The only thing we know about the Canyon's future comes from GM President Mark Reuss, who has said that if it gets built, it will be "significantly different" from the new Colorado.
Indian automaker Mahindra designed the Scorpio to be a capable, fuel efficient midsize truck. Coming with a range of engines, from a hybrid to "India's burliest diesel," we're eager to see if this is actually the case.
Mahindra has been trying to sell vehicles in North America since 2010, but legal complications continue to create delays. By the time the Indian automaker is done with the lawyers, it will probably have to design a new truck.
The Frontier has been around since 1998 and continues to be a decent seller for Japanese automaker Nissan.
Its standard 2.5-L I4 produces 152 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, small numbers that are matched with middling fuel economy (19 mpg city, 23 mpg highway). A 261-hp V6 is also available. The Frontier is offered with both two- and four-wheel drive, in KingCab and Crew Cab models that come with a good package of standard features.
The Frontier is a solid midsize truck and, while it may fly under the radar, it should be considered if you're shopping in the segment.
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The Toyota Tacoma is currently the best selling small truck in the U.S., in part due to its reputation for reliability and fantastic resale value. With even less competition in the segment, it stands to be an even bigger seller for the Japanese automaker.
The refreshed 2012 Tacoma is available in a wide variety of cabs and either two- or four-wheel drive. Its base engine, a 2.7L I4, produces 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. A 4.0L V6 producing 236 hp is also available.
Since the base Tacoma only seats three, it's not exactly a family hauler, but it should be more than capable for your outdoor projects.
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