Toyota Tacoma: Why it’s the Leader Among Midsize Pickup Trucks

Chevrolet Colorado
Source: Chevrolet

The battle between the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado is a tale as old as … well, as old as the trucks themselves, really. Each year, the two titans of Detroit go at it, with Ram serving as the Independent candidate that siphons sales from each. Ford, usually, walks away with the win, if you discount General Motors’ GMC brand.

In this league, Toyota and Nissan have virtually zero presence. The full-size pickup market is entirely dominated by the Detroit Three. Pop on down to the midsize trucks, however, and the scenario changes completely. Here, Toyota is king, Nissan’s a runner up, and the Big Three have largely ignored it. So when GM hopped back in the game last year with a new Colorado and Canyon, you’d expect the new trucks to clean up the segment that was run by the really old Tacoma and the even older Frontier, right?


Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Toyota’s Tacoma, still in the same generation that was introduced in 2005 (for the first half of the year, at least) led the segment with 179,562 sales in 2015. That crushed the Chevy Colorado’s 84,430 sales for the same period, despite it being a newer truck in almost every way. Notably, that doesn’t include GMC Canyon sales — which totaled 30,077, well behind the Nissan Frontier’s 62,817.

In the midsize market, it seems, people stick with what they know.

Andrew Collins at Jalopnik’s “Truck Yeah” theorized — likely correctly — that there were some rather publicized problems with the supply and delivery of the new Colorados, and that could have sliced into GM’s sales numbers potential. “Is the Tacoma brand that strong?” He added. “Perhaps many mid-size customers decided to wait once they realized that vehicle was being revitalized as well.”

Source: GMC

However, the market looks starkly different heading into 2016. GM now offers Duramax diesel-equipped models of the Canyon and Colorado, and Toyota’s new Tacoma will be enjoying it’s first full year on the market. Honda will be coming to play with a new Ridgeline that is decidedly more truck-like than the last (Honda sold 520 of them in 2015), and Nissan … well, Nissan still hasn’t done anything new with the Frontier, having focused on the rollout of the higher-end Titan XD instead.

That said, there’s no promise that much will change, especially if 2015 proves to be a precedent for truck sales. The new Ridgeline has all the ingredients to be a fantastic truck that will be enough for most truck buyers, but as “Truck Yeah” also points out, what they need and what they want are two starkly different realities. For emphasis on that point, see that Ford alone sold 780,354 trucks in 2015. The midsize segment, as a whole, moved about half of that.

2014 Nissan Frontier
Source: Nissan

These smaller numbers are likely exacerbated by a few factors: First, given how small the segment is relative to its larger stablemates, it’s harder for automakers to justify investing heavily in it. It’s why Nissan’s Frontier hasn’t been touched since Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was made Pope. The other, and perhaps more telling, reason is that the midsize trucks aren’t all that much smaller than the larger models anymore. The Colorado? It’s bigger than the Silverado was in 1999. Better to have that extra capacity when it’s not needed than wish for it when it is, I suppose.

Toyota owned the segment in 2015, and unless the stars have aligned in a significantly different formation, it’s likely that its new model will continue to carry the torch. Fans of Toyota’s trucks don’t seem to be as easily swayed by the allure of larger beds or cabins: Toyota sold just 118,880 Tundras last year. For the Colorado and Canyon, at the end of the day, their strongest competition might just come from their big brother the Silverado.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.