Where Art Thou, Compact Pickup?

It has been well documented that he compact pickup truck segment is shrinking in the U.S.  There are fewer and fewer options in the segment and those that are available are getting predictably fatter.  Thirty years ago, in 1982, you could buy a thrifty Ford Courier that would carry 1,500 pounds and deliver 38 mpg.  It would set you back about $5,895.00.  (Sakes alive!)  In 2012, if you hurry, you can buy a year old 2011 Ford Ranger based on a two decade old platform which can carry 1,130 pounds and will deliver a segment-best 28 mpg.  The vehicles in this segment have gotten bigger, weaker, and more expensive (and, editorially speaking, far uglier).  It is no wonder the segment is dying.

Click through for more mini-truck sadness.

 The compact truck buyer of 30 years ago bought them for three reasons: affordability, utility, and size.  Evidence of which can be seen in this 1982 Mazda B2000 TV spot.  (Note: The Mazda and the Ford Courier were the same vehicle with different badging.)

[youtube width=”720″ height=”518″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvd18HEf0TE[/youtube]

Affordability:  The $5,895.00 price tag from 1982 equates to about $13,700.00 in today’s dollars according to dollartimes.com’s inflation calculator.  The base price of the 2011 Ranger is $18,160.00.  If you choose to believe the inflation calculator numbers, that’s an adjusted 32% increase in base pricing.  Add the fact that the mileage ratings have dropped and the sum is a more expensive truck to buy and own.  Why?  How could these trucks gain computer controls, modern technology, and fuel injection, and still get worse mileage?  Also, why do they cost more?  Both questions can be answered at the same time.  Bloat.  They weigh more, they have more options, they have more safety features (not a bad thing), and they are physically bigger.  These are the mistakes the automakers have made that are killing the segment.  

If you get a chance to drive a mini-truck from the ’80s, you will notice that it is lightweight, not well optioned, and utilitarian.  A simple, utility vehicle which could get the job done while sipping fuel.  Many of today’s compact trucks barely compete, mileage-wise, with full-sized trucks.  Most have power windows, optional leather, power seats, large displacement engines, and many other non-utilitarian options, all of which drive up the price.

Utility: The small trucks of today can perform the tasks those of 30 years ago could.  Many can do much more.  The newest Ranger, for example is available with a 207 hp 4.0l v-6.  So equipped, it can tow up to 5,800 pounds (and get 17 mpg).  However, it is safe to assume that most buyers looking for those specs will opt for the F-150 instead.  The huge v-6 is an un-needed option.  Small truck buyers are willing to accept that their truck will do less than a full-sized truck, but expect better mileage as a tradeoff.  Mileage, after all, is utility.

Size:  Size is an interesting topic.  People choose small trucks because they are small.  Unfortunately, today’s small trucks keep getting bigger and bigger.  

[image credit: darkforestcreature.com]

1980 Ford Courier
178 L x 63 W x 61 H – 2515 lb.

2011 Ford Ranger
192 L x 69 W x 69 H – 3136 lb.  

Of course, these numbers help to explain the lack of economy stated above.  The models, much like most other automotive models, have just bloated over the years.  

Automakers have chipped away, over the years, at the characteristics that made small trucks a major segment at one time.  In turn, they have chipped away at sales.  Ford has discontinued sales of the Ranger in the U.S. despite an all-new design (available in 108 other countries).  The Chevrolet Colorado is getting old, and has a reputation for being slow and thirsty.  Toyota and Nissan own the biggest share of the segment, but will likely continue producing the same old product.

All the while, we will mourn the passing of a beloved segment of the automotive industry.

1979 Plymouth Arrow Sport

Side note: VW has flirted with the idea of bringing its Amorak compact truck to the U.S. to compete in this segment.  Unfortunately, at close to $30k, it’s not likely it would sell many units.  




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