Midsize truck war? Toyota Tacoma dominates, but Ford Ranger, Jeep Scrambler joining battle
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 General Motors was able to top Ford in pickup market share, even though Ford has the best-selling vehicle in the F-150.
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.
Volkswagen plans a renewed push into the lucrative pickup segment that's eluded the German manufacturer for years.
The compact Tarok, shown Nov. 6 in Sao Paulo, "will soon" be offered in Brazil, the company said in a statement. The truck "has the potential to boost Volkswagen's model range in...
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 show what appears to be a Wrangler with a truck bed, which makes sense because the truck is being built in Toledo, 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 start-ups 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.
Volkswagen has even suggested it might enter the fray. At this year's New York International Auto Show reporters were reportedly "stunned" by a midsize concept from the German automaker, a five-seat Atlas Tanoak.
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Charlie Gragg, 60, of Bloomfield Township 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 (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."
During a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula this summer, Gragg and his wife, Julia Gragg, were able to haul bikes on a rack, kayaks and their luggage with the Ridgeline.
The midsize sales spree has been increasing yearly. In 2014, the number of new registrations for the 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," Libby 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 full-size truck drivers. While both groups are primarily white males, the median age for those with a midsize truck is older (53 compared to 46) and they make about $10,000 less than those with a full-size truck. More midsize truck shoppers are also located on the coasts,with Vermont having the highest registration level and Michigan having the lowest among the states.
Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast 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 five-foot bed. It's not often that 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 a wider array of shoppers to consider a truck rather than a car.
"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, however, said price is not the only consideration for buyers.
"It really comes down to how people use it," Brown said. "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 also 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 off-road beast.
"We'll bury it (in) sand up to the frame, and it'll dig itself out — something a driver can't do" on his own, Brown said.