Mid­size pick­ups en­ter truck war for the long haul

Lower prices, ver­sa­til­ity are con­vinc­ing an ar­ray of buy­ers to make the switch

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Eric D. Lawrence Con­tribut­ing: Phoebe Wall Howard

If you use a pickup for your con­struc­tion job, you prob­a­bly drive a full-size truck, such as a Ford F-150, Chevy Sil­ver­ado or Ram 1500.

But if your truck needs re­volve around haul­ing camp­ing gear or a moun­tain bike, then a mid­size truck might be the right fit.

Lucky for you, that’s where the next front in the truck wars is un­fold­ing.

Toy­ota has dom­i­nated this space with its Ta­coma, but the Honda Ridge­line, Nis­san Fron­tier and two Gen­eral Mo­tors offer­ings – the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon – are bat­tling as well. Ford’s ab­sence from this seg­ment in re­cent years helps ex­plain how GM was able to top Ford in pickup mar­ket share, even though Ford has the best-sell­ing ve­hi­cle in the F-se­ries.

And this front is about to get more crowded. In a few weeks, Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles will un­veil a truck de­signed to high­light the life­style as­pect of truck own­er­ship, with a ve­hi­cle that can work and play hard for the ac­tive-liv­ing crowd.

The Jeep Scram­bler – that’s the name widely ex­pected to be at­tached to the new truck – is set to be un­veiled at the Los An­ge­les Auto Show. Spy shots, in­clud­ing im­ages caught by the USA TO­DAY Net­work’s De­troit Free Press on a metro De­troit high­way last month, show what ap­pears to be a Wran­gler with a truck bed, which makes sense be­cause the truck is be­ing built in Toledo, Ohio, just like the iconic SUV.

The Scram­bler, as­sum­ing that’s what it’s called, will join the 2019 Ford Ranger, rolling off the line now at the Michi­gan Assem­bly Plant in Wayne in ex­pand­ing the mid­size seg­ment. But that’s not ex­pected to be the end of the story, in part be­cause mid­size truck sales are ex­pected to in­crease by 50 per­cent by 2023, ac­cord­ing to David Franklin, a ve­hi­cle fore­cast an­a­lyst for LMC Au­to­mo­tive.

“It’s likely that we’ll see a mid­size pickup out of Tesla at some point, and star­tups like (Michi­gan-based) Ri­vian will be adding to the mix. It wouldn’t be out­landish to see more fa­mil­iar faces join the seg­ment as well. With pick­ups sell­ing the way they are, it makes sense that (au­tomak­ers) want to have a bal­anced port­fo­lio avail­able for buy­ers,” Franklin said.

The mid­size sales spree has been in­creas­ing yearly. In 2014, the num­ber of new reg­is­tra­tions for mid­size trucks pre­vi­ously men­tioned was just un­der 251,000. Last year, the num­ber stood at more than 453,000. Through Au­gust of this year, it was more than 348,000. Toy­ota Ta­coma led the charge, with more than 200,000 new reg­is­tra­tions in 2017.

Price can be a fac­tor, but mid­size trucks offer a range of cost and abil­ity to suit differ­ent types of cus­tomers, with prices from the mid $20,000s to the low $40,000s, said Shel­don Brown, chief en­gi­neer for the Ta­coma.

“As full-sized trucks have be­come more and more ex­pen­sive, smaller trucks of­fer a bet­ter value.”

Sam Fio­rani Vice pres­i­dent of global ve­hi­cle fore­cast­ing for Au­toFore­cast So­lu­tions.

MICHAEL ENGELMEYER VIA TOY­OTA

The Toy­ota Ta­coma, top, faces com­pe­ti­tion from the up­com­ing Ford Ranger, left, and pos­si­bly the new Jeep Scram­bler.

KIM­BERLY P. MITCHELL/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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