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January 2011 4Word - Editorial

Posted in Features on January 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Model year 2011 is the last for the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Dodge Ram Dakota. The Ford Ranger, now long in the tooth, is being retired in North America but will continue worldwide as the new Ranger T6 platform designed in Australia and built in Thailand. It would have been nice if Ford kept its Minnesota Ranger plant open to build the new T6 Ranger for North America. They aren't going to.

Why axe smaller pickups from our market? Sharply declining sales numbers are the reason. Except for the Ranger, which kept its smaller dimensions, all mini or compact pickups have become midsize pickups with bloated price tags that are very similar to their fullsize siblings. People are asking why they should pay more for less. The Ranger's decline was simply because it needed updating, not resizing.

We know about the T6 Ranger, but can't find anything about whether GM has plans for another compact pickup to sell in North America, even though they sell them elsewhere on the planet. Dodge may introduce a smaller unibody pickup in the future, but unibody pickups aren't the solution, either. Toyota's Tacoma and Nissan's Frontier soldier on but are midsize vehicles with the same problems (and advantages) as their American counterparts. Prices are high and fuel-economy numbers are just about the same as fullsize trucks. With the introduction of Ford's new 2011 F-150 - its powerful Duratec 3.7L V-6 gets stunning fuel economy - fullsize trucks will be getting better mileage than midsize trucks.

Therefore, midsize trucks are dead or dying. We've mentioned before that the mini or compact pickup's time is here again. Introduced in the 1950s by Toyota and Datsun (Nissan), the compact pickups took off in the 1970s when fuel prices started climbing. Remember the Toyota Hilux, the Datsun 620, the Ford Courier, the Chevy Luv, and the many other small pickups available in the '70s? In 1977 Datsun designed and introduced the first extended-cab compact pickup, calling it the King Cab. I owned one then. It was roomy for a small pickup and maneuverable, and it returned great fuel economy.

Today, the economy is reeling, and fuel prices are going up again. Compact pickups worked in the '70s and would work now. North Americans need these trucks and would purchase these trucks, especially when reminded how they sip fuel and are so maneuverable. Backcountry explorers need these trucks, too. My Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is an amazing truck, but it would be even better for what I use it for if it was a compact-size Ford SVT Ranger 4x4. A few years ago, Jeep unveiled the Gladiator and JT pickups based on the JK Wrangler platform to universal acclaim. They did nothing about it - until just recently (watch for news updates in future issues). Small trucks and SUVs work in town and in the backcountry.

Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki, and Mahindra (if they can design a truck that people can stand to look at) certainly have the capability to build modern compact pickups. Let's hope somebody figures out how lucrative small trucks can be in North America. The midsize truck is dead. Long live the compacts!


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