Once, a very long time ago – for the sake of argument, let’s call it the 1980s — there were distinct classes that broke up the pickup truck segment. Back then, there were a host of compact (and mostly imported) pickups including the Volkswagen Rabbit-based Caddy, the Datsun 720, and the Isuzu Pup. Above those were the Midsize range like the Chevrolet S10, Ford Ranger, and Dodge Dakota, which slotted nicely below the full-size trucks like the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, and Chevy 1500. By 1990, most of the compact trucks had disappeared from the American marketplace. When the Ford Ranger ended its production run in 2011 after a 29 model-year run, it had outlived competitors the Dodge Dakota by one year, and the Chevy S10/GMC Sonoma by eight.
Released last fall, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups have proven to be runaway successes for General Motors. The Colorado won Motor Trend’s coveted “Truck of the Year” award for 2015 and, along with the Canyon, has suddenly given the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier a serious run for their money. With the recent reveal of the next-generation Tacoma, the long-dormant midsize segment is heating up for the first time in years, and Ford is considering a return to the market as well. But should the market be called “midsize” anymore? As reporter Kyle Stock found in his review of the Colorado for Bloomberg Business, in the midsize pickup market bigger is better – even if midsize is beginning to eclipse full-size trucks.
Chevy has done a great job at marketing the Colorado as a capable and compact pickup that slots below the 1500 Silverado while still maintaining all the rugged qualities that customers expect from a Chevy truck. Stock points out that this reputation has made the Colorado incredibly popular among urban buyers who usually wouldn’t consider a truck, and as a result, dealerships are having a hard time keeping them in stock. But despite its reputation as a small truck, it’s actually longer than a base model full-size Silverado. While this blurs the line between pickup segments, it also highlights just how much pickups have grown in the past two decades.
Twenty years ago, the full-size Chevy C/K was nearing the end of its life-cycle before being replaced by the all-new Silverado line in 1999. The full-size truck was a capable workhorse, and at over 16 feet long and weighing in at around 3,800 pounds, it dwarfed the 2,800 pound midsize S10. Today, the C/K is tiny compared to the modern Silverado – and the Colorado. With its extended four-door cab, the Colorado is nearly 18 feet long, 6 inches longer than the base model Silverado, and nearly 2 feet longer than the old C/K. And while the Colorado is the longer of the two, weight is where the Silverado really retains its full-size title. At more than 4,500 pounds, it’s nearly 500 pounds heavier than the Colorado, and almost 700 pounds heavier than its full-sized ancestor.
While trucks continue to grow larger with each new generation, an end may be in sight – or at the very least a reborn compact segment. Speaking with USA Today about the possibility of a new midsize truck, Ford’s truck marketing manager Dave Scott flatly dismissed claims that the company would merely offer their international Ranger pickup stateside. “Too big. It’s 90% of the F-150 size,” he said, going on to outline what Ford is for in a truly mid-sized pickup. “We think we could sell a compact truck that’s more like the size of the old Ranger, that gets 6 or 8 more miles per gallon (than a full-size truck), is $5,000 or $6,000 less, and that we could build in the U.S. to avoid the tariff on imported trucks.” With the emergence and success of small crossovers, car buyers have shown that there’s a growing market for rugged small cars, and a truly small pickup could be a major success for any automaker who can bring one to the U.S. market.
If Ford is serious about its new small truck, the market would have a true successor to the original midsize pickups. Fiat Chrysler could also be considering an offering as well, as the Fiat Strada-based Ram 700 has just gone on sale in Mexico. If the little truck sells in the Mexican market while demand for smaller trucks heats up stateside, it’s a very real possibility the Italian-based truck could hit U.S. showrooms in the next few years. With so much in flux, what does this all mean for the current midsize market? Would the Colorado and Canyon shrink to compete if Ford and FCA enter the fray, or will they continue to step on the toes of their larger stablemates? It’s far too early to tell, but from here, there’s a pretty good chance the midsize truck market will get even more crowded within the next few years. Hopefully, it’ll get easier to define too.
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