Mid­size pick­ups en­ter truck war for the long haul

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

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Eric D. Lawrence

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 fit.

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 of­fer­ings – 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 un- veiled 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 (Michi­gan­based) 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.

Volk­swa­gen has even sug­gested it might en­ter the fray. At this year’s

“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 Auto Fore­cast So­lu­tions.

New York In­ter­na­tional Auto Show, VW in­tro­duced a mid­size pickup con­cept called the At­las Tanoak.

❚ Bikes, not boats: Char­lie Gragg,

60, of Bloom­field Town­ship, Michi­gan, rep­re­sents the kind of new truck cus­tomer mid­size trucks can at­tract. Gragg some­times needs to haul lum­ber, but he does not need to tow the heav­ier loads pos­si­ble with a full-size pickup.

Gragg has a three-year lease on a Honda Ridge­line.

“It’s my first truck, and I love it. My wife en­joys driv­ing it, too. We call it a car-truck,” Gragg said, not­ing that he had “had (his) eye on trucks” be­fore tak­ing on the lease. “The back seats in this truck are more com­fort­able than many cars I’ve been in.”

On a trip to Michi­gan’s Up­per Penin­sula this sum­mer, Gragg and his wife, Ju­lia, hauled bikes on a rack, kayaks and lug­gage with the Ridge­line.

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, fol­lowed by the Colorado with more than 111,000 new reg­is­tra­tions.

Tom Libby, an an­a­lyst with IHS Markit, said the growth in the seg­ment has been sur­pris­ing.

“To see it (al­most) dou­ble, it’s re­ally ex­traor­di­nary in just four years, and now it’s sim­i­lar size to other seg­ments,” he said. “Very, very rarely do you see a seg­ment dou­ble in such a very, very short pe­riod of time.”

A Cox Au­to­mo­tive sur­vey of peo­ple who own or lease a truck found that those who drive mid­size trucks rep­re­sent some key dif­fer­ences from full­size truck driv­ers. While both groups are pri­mar­ily white males, the me­dian age for those with a mid­size truck is older (53 com­pared with 46), and they make about $10,000 less than those with a full-size truck. More mid­size truck shop­pers also are lo­cated on the coasts, with Ver­mont hav­ing the high­est reg­is­tra­tion level and Michi­gan hav­ing the low­est among states.

❚ Price makes a dif­fer­ence: Sam Fio­rani, vice pres­i­dent of global ve­hi­cle fore­cast­ing for Auto Fore­cast So­lu­tions, said pric­ing is a key rea­son peo­ple buy mid­size trucks.

“As full-sized trucks have be­come more and more ex­pen­sive, now av­er­ag­ing around $50,000, smaller trucks of­fer a bet­ter value. Few large pickup buy­ers use the full ca­pa­bil­ity of their truck and are used pri­mar­ily as com­muter ve­hi­cles and pos­si­bly week­end war­rior haulers,” he said.

“To­day’s mid­sized pick­ups of­fer room for five pas­sen­gers and a us­able

5-foot bed. It’s not often the av­er­age pickup owner needs to haul around sheets of ply­wood or drywall, but car­ry­ing a load of mulch or a cou­ple of moun­tain bikes is en­tirely within the range of any Colorado or Ranger.”

The lower prices of mid­size trucks also al­low shop­pers to con­sider a truck.

“A $30-(35,000) Colorado is an eas­ier tran­si­tion to trucks from a Cruze or Mal­ibu than a ($50,000) Sil­ver­ado,” he said.

Shel­don Brown, chief en­gi­neer for the Toy­ota Ta­coma, said price is not the only con­sid­er­a­tion for buy­ers.

“It re­ally comes down to how peo­ple use it. Ma­neu­ver­abil­ity is re­ally im­por­tant, garaga­bil­ity is im­por­tant,” Brown said, ref­er­enc­ing how driv­ers can strug­gle to fit larger ve­hi­cles into more tra­di­tional-sized garages. “Full-size (trucks have) chal­lenges that the small size doesn’t.”

Price can be a fac­tor, but mid­size trucks of­fer a range of cost and abil­ity to suit dif­fer­ent types of cus­tomers, with prices from the mid $20,000s to the low $40,000s, Brown said.

Many of those higher-end cus­tomers want an off-road­ing ve­hi­cle, and Brown said fea­tures such as Crawl Con­trol can turn a Ta­coma into an of­froad beast.

Brown noted that the Toy­ota Ta­coma TRD Pro – a 2019 model start­ing at

$42,660 – is con­sid­ered the halo of the Ta­coma line.

“Ta­coma’s a great truck … it’s tough and rugged,” Brown said. “Our tagline is we make bad-ass trucks.”

Paul Richards, who owns Brighton Honda in Michi­gan, said he drives a Ridge­line even though he has no use for a truck.

“It just drives like a nice sedan,” he said. “If you didn’t ... look be­hind you, you wouldn’t know any bet­ter.”

MICHAEL ENGELMEYER VIA TOY­OTA

USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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

KIM­BERLY P. MITCHELL/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.