Midsize pickups enter truck war for the long haul
Lower prices, versatility are convincing an array of buyers to make the switch
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.”
The Toyota Tacoma, top, faces competition from the upcoming Ford Ranger, left, and possibly the new Jeep Scrambler.