Many fleet managers have lamented the "death" of the pony-sized, Ford Ranger pickup. It came completely off the shelf at the end of 2011. But, there could be joy in "Mudville" as some OEMs are planning to fill the void.
You can't help but think about the end of the road for the Chevrolet Astro. Fleets found it so ideal for many uses. Looking back, it didn't take long for other OEMs to recognize the remaining demand and we now have several small vans to choose from.
Ten years ago, I spent some time in Europe and found myself looking at all the very small cars and trucks. Even knowing the stark differential of gasoline prices between continents, I reflected that we, in the U.S., would never succumb to the small versions. Boy, was I wrong.
Checking back on sales figures 10 years ago, you will find that fleets were only buying about 61,000 compact trucks (9.1 percent of the 668,500 sold totally). At that time, GM gave the Ranger some competition with the Colorado, Canyon, S10, and Sonoma. There was also the Dodge Dakota, Mazda models, the Nissan Frontier, and the Toyota Tacoma.
Despite the compact truck market diving from 2 million sales to 250,000, there appears to be ample competition coming. Today, the Tacoma is red hot for fleets in this segment, but retail is even hotter so you have to get in line.
Most believe the compact truck market is now expanding and will continue. Just ask Mike Sims over at the Church of Latter-Day Saints or Paul Youngpeter at Rollins. Just ask any pool cleaner or auto parts delivery truck owner — it's a strong market.
Many fleets would love to have that small pickup with a 1,000-pound payload and a 3,000-pound towing ability, plus some really improved mpg. In these days of "greening," lighter usually means a significantly better fuel cost situation.
Later this year, GM will be delivering its new 2015 Colorado/Canyon as a "mid-sized" answer for this market. It will offer the 3.6L V-6, a 2.5L four-cylinder, and a turbo-diesel engine array. The initial reviews of the truck are all raves. The key will be fuel economy (is 30 mpg possible?) and pricing (analysts say that a $5,000 gap should exist between compact and full-sized pickups).
Honda announced it will have an all-new, mid-size Ridgeline replacement within two years. Ford is seriously mulling over a possible F-100 direct replacement of the Ranger. Chrysler is studying bringing in the Fiat car-based Strada to the U.S. as a Ram.
With the "chicken tax" on imported trucks, they'll have to be built in North America. It may be a couple of years away, but there'll be some choices, and it just may revive this often ignored segment.