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The automotive sales charts in the United States are dominated by full-size pickup trucks — with the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Ram 1500 taking the top spots. However, there’s a compact one that’s a resounding success: the Ford Maverick. This success leaves one to wonder why there aren’t more small trucks like the Maverick in America. You can blame it on something that was enacted nearly six decades ago: the Chicken Tax.

There used to be more compact trucks like the Ford Maverick in the US

Chicken and red 2023 Ford Maverick, showing Chicken Tax is why no small pickup trucks in America
Chicken and 2023 Ford Maverick | Finn Mund via Unsplash; Ford

Technically, there are two models for the compact pickup truck segment in the U.S. Along with the Ford Maverick, there’s the Hyundai Santa Cruz. However, with its obscure design, many don’t even consider the Santa Cruz to be a true pickup truck — more like a Hyundai Tucson compact SUV with a pickup bed. Beyond that, all of the other ones sold in America are either midsize or full-size models.

However, in past decades, there wasn’t a scarcity of small trucks in the U.S. They used to be a common sight on roadways around the country from the 1970s to the 1990s, as detailed by the Wichita Eagle. And most of them were from Toyota and other foreign car brands. 

In 1985, more than 25% of pickup trucks sold in America were compacts. However, by 2010, that percentage dropped to zero — with full-size models ruling the land. 

And since the Ford Maverick made its debut for the 2022 model year, there has been renewed interest in compact trucks. Also, people question why there aren’t more small trucks in the U.S. The primary reason is the Chicken Tax.

What is the Chicken Tax on trucks?

Flock of chickens walking in the grass
Chickens | Zachariah Smith via Unsplash

In global commerce between countries, governments try to get the best trade agreements for importing and exporting of goods to benefit domestic economies and workers. And one of the most powerful tools to achieve a global economic advantage is tariffs — for better or worse. 

This is where the Chicken Tax comes into play. It’s a 25% tariff on light trucks imported to America. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson issued an executive order for the Chicken Tax. It was enacted in retaliation for European tariffs on chicken imported from the U.S. — hence the name.

Pickup bed of blue 2023 Ford Maverick, showing Chicken Tax is why no small trucks in America
2023 Ford Maverick | Ford

While tariffs are common in global trade between countries, the 25% tariff for the Chicken Tax is extreme. Since the Chicken Tax was enacted, the global economy has opened up considerably — and trade barriers have sharply dropped. In 2022, the average tariff rate that the U.S. levied on imported goods was only 2%, per Investopedia

However, the 25% Chicken Tax still remains. Also, the original tariff applied to other products, including brandy, dextrin, and potato starch. While subsequent legislation removed the tariffs from these other products, it still applies to imported light trucks.

Chicken Tax makes it too expensive to import small trucks to America

A consequence of the Chicken Tax is it made it too expensive to import small trucks to the U.S. An appealing aspect of compact models is affordability. This is evidenced by the 2023 Ford Maverick. With a starting price of $22,595 MSRP, it’s by far the cheapest new truck sold in America. And this affordability applied to small trucks from Toyota and other foreign automakers in past decades. They were financially accessible. 

However, the Chicken Tax changed that. The 25% tariff created a dramatic increase in prices. As a result, it was no longer economically viable for Toyota and other foreign car brands to sell compact trucks in the U.S.

Conversely, full-size trucks like the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, Ram 1500, and Toyota Tundra are very profitable. This is especially the case with them moving from their utilitarian roots into luxury vehicle territory. Consequently, there’s little incentive for automakers to produce less profitable compact trucks.

Nonetheless, the success of the Ford Maverick shines a light on the small pickup truck segment — and the dearth of options. The repeal of the outdated Chicken Tax would go a long way toward bringing compact trucks back to America.


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