December 7, 2014 — The return of the midsize truck market is officially in play with two big announcements last week.
Late last week, Toyota Senior Vice President of Operations Bob Carter announced during the automaker’s annual media Christmas luncheon in Detroit that it will show a newly revamped Toyota Tacoma at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. Carter provided few details about the redesign but it should hit dealer lots in July of 2015.
Also last week, Motor Trend surprised the automotive world by naming the twin Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon as its Truck of the Year. The announcement is somewhat of a blow to Ford, which is launching its revolutionary F-150 built mostly with aluminum, and probably expected to walk away with most of this year’s automotive awards.
The two announcements reflect — at least on the surface — the growing importance of the midsize truck market, and has some observers wondering if they will propel Ford into bringing the Ranger back to the U.S.
Tacoma is due for a redesign having had its last refresh in 2012. It leads the midsize category this year with more than 140,000 sales through November (down 4.1% for the year). Meanwhile, Nissan’s Frontier sales are up 18.9% this year (68,263).
General Motors’ Colorado and Canyon began hitting showrooms in November and dealer inventories are still ramping up so the industry will have a better idea in a few months whether the automaker is making the right move returning to the midsize truck market. So far, the two trucks have sold a combined 5,503 units this year.
The midsize truck market used to be a big seller in the U.S. 10 years ago with sales of 1.2 million. The market started to decline but even as recently as five years ago, there were nine different offerings. Now it’s down to three — Tacoma, Frontier and the Colorado/Canyon with sales of only 203,000 through November.
GM says its dealers placed more than 40,000 orders for the new trucks (through the beginning of October) and potential customers had made 100,000 configurations on its websites. So it’s expecting the twin trucks to be big sellers in 2015.
GM will have to balance carefully its pricing strategies, though. The midsize trucks are almost too close in price with GM’s bigger and more profitable Sierra and Silverado models. There is always the “danger” that sales people will direct customers toward the more profitable trucks if pricing narrows between the two.
Ford’s Ranger currently is sold in 100 other countries and does well. It last sold in the U.S. as a new vehicle in 2012. The likelihood of Ford bringing the Ranger in its current form back to the U.S. is slim to none. It’s too big and would compete with the F-150. Instead, if Ford decides it needs to get back into the smaller truck arena in the U.S., look for it to be with a smaller truck than the current midsize models offered by GM, Nissan and Toyota. But it could take three to four years of development before one is ready for the U.S., unless Ford makes a surprise announcement later next year revealing it’s already been working on a replacement.