GM faces off with Toy­ota in com­pact pickup arena

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Alisa Prid­dle and Brent Snavely

DETROIT — Gen­eral Mo­tors has cho­sen to go bumper-to-bumper with Toy­ota for what’s left of a com­pact pickup mar­ket that both Ford and Chrysler have aban­doned for the fat­ter prof­its of more mas­sive trucks.

Ford no longer makes its Ranger for North Amer­ica, and Chrysler’s Ram brand has shelved plans for a suc­ces­sor to the Dakota.

But GM un­veiled a new Chevro­let Colorado last month at the Los An­ge­les auto show. Some­time in the next year or so, it likely will add a ZR2 off-road ver­sion. Mark Reuss, GM North Amer­ica pres­i­dent, said there is a lot of op­por­tu­nity for spe­cial edi­tions and ac­ces­sories.

The GMC Canyon, which has not been re­vealed yet, looks more like a full-size truck, Reuss added. Pric­ing of the small trucks’ top trim lev­els will over­lap with en­try-level full-size trucks small-truck buy­ers will ap­pre­ci­ate its smaller di­men­sions and driv­ing some­thing al­most 1,000 pounds lighter than a Chevy Sil­ver­ado, Reuus added.

Mak­ing a smaller, lighter and more fuel-ef­fi­cient truck also helps GM bring down its cor­po­rate av­er­age fuel econ­omy to meet reg­u­la­tions on the hori­zon, Reuss said.

Un­like full-size trucks, of which Amer­i­cans will buy about 1.9 mil­lion this year, com­pact pick­ups are al­most a niche mar­ket, on pace to sell about 225,000 this year.

Dom­i­nat­ing the mar­ket is the Toy­ota Ta­coma, which has sold 146,724 through Novem­ber. “We have this di­a­mond — a 150,000-unit an­nu­ally pickup truck,” and it sells with zero in­cen­tives, said Bob Carter, Toy­ota se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent of au­to­mo­tive op­er­a­tions. “Our busi­ness hasn’t de­clined. It’s just that (nearly) every­body has pulled out.”

The clos­est com­peti­tor is the Nis­san Fron­tier, with less than 58,000 U.S. sales this year through Novem­ber. Honda has sold 16,160 Ridge­lines.

“The ques­tion is whether the seg­ment will con­tinue to be squeezed out by the ad­vances in full-size trucks,” said Reid Bigland, head of Ram trucks. “Or is it a ma­jor growth seg­ment?”

Chrysler, so far, is bet­ting the seg­ment will shrink. But Jeep chief Mike Man­ley would love to see the re­turn of a Jeep pickup.

“Jeep has a his­tory of pick­ups. I’m a fan of a pickup,” Man­ley said. “It’s some­thing a num­ber of peo­ple would like to see.”

But not enough for Chrysler’s top man­age­ment to ap­prove a pro­gram.

Ford sells the Ranger ev­ery­where but North Amer­ica. Joe Hin­richs, Ford pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­cas, said Ford is not re-eval­u­at­ing its de­ci­sion to stop sell­ing the Ranger in the U.S.

“With our fuel-ef­fi­cient F-150, we can meet de­mand,” he said. “We think our strat­egy is work­ing.”

GM sees an op­por­tu­nity. Reuss rec­og­nizes the risk, but is bet­ting a new prod­uct will stim­u­late in­ter­est and sales. Toy­ota wel­comes the com­pe­ti­tion. “I ac­tu­ally be­lieve that the Colorado cre­ates more Ta­coma busi­ness,” Carter said. “I re­ally think some en­ergy into the mar­ket is go­ing to help.” The Ta­coma was re­freshed last year. “I would rather be a lit­tle smaller share of a grow­ing seg­ment than a big, fat share of a de­clin­ing seg­ment,” said Bill Fay, Toy­ota di­vi­sion gen­eral man­ager. Chrysler ex­ec­u­tives beg to dif­fer. “The vi­sion of a small pickup is easy to un­der­stand from a con­sumer point of view. It’s just hard to ex­e­cute, given how com­pet­i­tive full-size pick­ups have be­come,” Bigland said.

Re­sources will fo­cus in­stead on the full-size Ram lineup.

Bigland said the dilemma is that to make a small truck dis­tinc­tive, it would need to be priced be­low US$20,000 and get bet­ter than 30 m.p.g. (7.84 litres per 100 kilo­me­tres).

“When we have half-ton trucks that can get 27 miles to the gal­lon (8.7 L/100 km) and be had for the low $20,000s, we are strug­gling with where that would fit,” Bigland said. “We need to make sure we’re in­vest­ing in the places where we’re go­ing to get the best re­turn.”

Gen­eral Mo­tors un­veiled the new Chevro­let Colorado, left, last month at the Los An­ge­les

auto show.

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