Where Did The Compact Pickups Go?

Where Did The Compact Pickups Go?

Bigger isn’t always better, although domestic automakers are pretending not to hear you when it comes to compact pickups. Why?

On December 2011, Ford produced its last Ranger for the US, a truck that had a 28 year heritage as being an affordable, fuel-efficient and market friendly vehicle. True, the Ranger was looking quite prehistoric by the time it was let go, and sales numbers for compact pickups were dwindling from what they used to be, but is that enough of a reason to kill off the vehicle, and send your buyers to another automaker?

When the Ranger was stopped in December 2011, it had already sold 70,000 models that year. Compact pickups are still a significant segment, with Rangers still being sold off Ford lots today.

Toyota and Nissan now stand un-opposed; with Toyota selling more than 12,000 Tacoma’s this past month alone. That shows that there are still buyers in the compact pickup market, and that a proper small pickup is still more important to truck-buyers than something like the Honda Ridgeline (which couldn’t sell more than 1,000 last month.)


Ford does have a new Ranger though. In international markets the Ford Ranger continues to thrive. In fact, in 180 markets, the Ranger has the small size and efficiency that made it so recognizable and the off-roading chops to compete with the likes of the Toyota Tacoma. The interior and exterior design of that new vehicle are also a generation apart from the old truck, and features Ford’s latest safety and user friendly comforts.

If Ford’s ‘One Ford’ marketing strategy of selling models globally is to be believed, there should be no reason not to see a Ranger make its way to North America. Under the One Ford philosophy, an international Ford is as good as a domestic one, and vice-versa. It’s that idea that led to the impressive Focus ST, and the stunning design of the new Fusion. By using the research and experience of being a global brand, Ford has made some pretty inspired vehicles. Under that philosophy there’s no apparent reason why that Ranger wouldn’t exist here.

However, Ford says that the F-150 half-ton pickup covers the entire range of truck buyer’s needs, even those who considered the Ranger. They insist that it’s as cheap as a Ranger, and as fuel efficient. The last Ford Ranger came in at around $18,160 and earned 22/27 mpg city/highway and 24 mpg combined. The new Ford F-150, however, costs many thousands more at $23,500 and at its best gets 17/23 mpg city/high and 19 mpg combined. There’s a pretty significant difference in price and fuel efficiency. The international Ranger earns about 28.3 mpg combined on the UK efficiency cycle, and is even available with a diesel engine that gets 32.8 mpg. The only way the new Ranger doesn’t stack up favourably is when it comes to price, which when converted directly from the UK pricetag, would come to around the price of a base F-150.


Ford’s strategy in regards to its small pickup isn’t shared by its competitors. Rival American automaker General Motors has an international version of the Colorado pickup, designed with some input from the Thai and Brazilian market.

“It was very much a multicultural team with people from a number of different GM regions relocating for the project including GM Europe, SAAB, GM North America, and GM Holden,” says Kirsty Lindsay, a Design Manager of the Holden Colorado.

GM has stated that the international Holden Colorado and Chevrolet Colorado, will be the base of the North American model. This method of releasing the vehicle in international markets first was used in the global release of the Cruze, Spark and Sonic. It all sounds similar to Fords ‘One-Ford’ strategy, but in regards to the compact pickup, GM is actually following through.

“Obviously, we think there is a good market for a midsize truck here in the U.S,” said Tom Wilkinson, from Chevrolet’s Communications team. “There are customers who don’t need the full capability of a full-size truck, and are attracted to a truck that is a little smaller and has better fuel economy.”

Wilkinson added that he “can’t speak for our competitors, but we like our strategy.”

The team at Holden seems to agree that compact pickups work and are an important product to have.

“The light commercial vehicle market is booming at an amazing rate and we expect this to continue well into the foreseeable future,” says John Elsworth, executive director of sales and marketing at Holden. “What counts with these two buyer groups is toughness, reliability and great looks.” That certainly applies across the world in the US, meaning that the Colorado should be the same attractive option to Americans as it is everywhere else.


Compact pickups are sometimes looked down upon by the rest of truck buyers. If someone wants a truck, why not get a ‘real’ one, like the F-150, Silverado or Ram? They have all the capability a truck owner would want thanks to a bigger bed. They have bigger, more powerful engines that allow for greater towing and payload, and are overall more spacious.

Then why are compact pickups so popular? Toyota has sold more of its Tacoma compact pickup in 2012, rather than its Tundra half-ton which competes with the big-dogs named F-150, Ram and Silverado. Nissan too, enjoys more sales for its Frontier compact pickup over its Titan, likely for the same main reasons as the Tacoma.

“The Tacoma is very successful for a number of reasons,” says Sam Butto, from Toyota’s truck division. “Toyota has a long and rich compact pickup truck heritage that dates back nearly 50 years and has a reputation for its quality, utility and durability that has earned a large amount of owner loyalty.” Butto’s right, a Toyota often sits atop Consumer Reports reliability report cards every year, and rated much higher than the American automakers.

“For many years now the Tacoma has been the number one seller in the U.S. in the compact pickup segment and currently holds a market share of over 40 percent,” says Butto “Reasons for this, in addition to its reputation for quality and durability, is because for the past several years the size of compact pickups, including Tacoma, have grown, thus increasing their capability.”

Butto then outlines the main reasons why compact pickups are popular in the first place.

“The Tacoma is less expensive than full-size trucks yet delivers the power and utility to satisfy the needs of many truck owners. Additionally, Tacoma delivers better fuel economy than most full-size trucks.”


So why exactly is Ford not bringing a small pickup here, while GM is? Also, why do Toyota and Nissan continue to sell small pickups here, even though the market is so small?

GM is planning on making the new Colorado here in the states, while Ford would have to import them, meaning it would cost quite a bit. Toyota and Nissan both make their US-spec pickups in the states too, which helps reduce the costs. The Chicken Tax is another significant reason it would be expensive to bring the International Ranger over to the US.

The Chicken Tax is a 25% tariff that was put in place in 1963 on imported light trucks, as a response to France and West Germany taxing American chickens and other products. Today, the chicken tax lives on to protect U.S. domestic automakers from foreign truck production. When it was first introduced it cut-down competition in the US, making more American-made vehicles available to buyers. Now, with the auto-industry being a global trade, it’s hurting domestic automakers too.

The Chicken Tax is already causing headaches for Ford on its Transit Connect cargo van. Made in Turkey, the Ford Transit Connect is shipped to the US as a passenger vehicle to avoid the chicken tax. The car then gets unassembled, leaving its seats and windows to be recycled, as the new cargo spec version of the van is sold to American customers. The Ranger, however, doesn’t have any way to disguise itself as a passenger vehicle, so all pickups are taxed at the port.


What if Ford could make the Ranger in the US? The cost to Ford of developing a plant to cater to the Ranger’s platform could be pretty significant in these tight times for automakers. Speaking of the new Ranger’s platform, it’s quite a bit bigger than the old Ranger. Comparisons have been made between the four-door Ranger to the four-door F-150 with a regular 5.5-foot box, and they conclude that the Ranger is still smaller in every way. However, the margin is tight, with the two vehicles being quite close in terms of length (231.9 for the F-150 to 210.6 inches for the Ranger) wheelbase (144.5 inches/126.8 inches), width (67 inches/61 inches), and height (76.2 inches/71.7 inches.) So, while the Ranger is still smaller than the F-150, it’s not nearly as big of a difference as it used to be. That means that buyers might want to opt for the F-150, which is just 10% larger than the Ranger. So even if Ford made the Ranger here, and priced it below the F-150, it might very well eat into sales of the bigger pickup. Any move that hurts the F-150 hurts Ford, so the international Ranger definitely won’t ever see our shores.

So, will the current market segment leader turn around and stop making the Tacoma, like Ford did with the Ranger? It doesn’t look like it. A new model of the Tacoma is expected to come out in 2014 and feature new engine technology and an updated style. Nissan will also be debuting a new version of the Frontier in the next year or so. That means the compact pickup battle will be on in 2014, but without Ford taking on Chevy, Nissan and Toyota, it just won’t be the same.

  • B9

    “Ford’s strategy in regards to its small pickup…”.  Sorry to be playing grammar police, but pluralizing regard in that sentence is a crime that should earn its perpetrator a paper cut to the nostril at the least.

    Now, as it regards the dearth of smaller pickup trucks in the U.S., I would actually prefer something smaller than the current Tacoma or the new Ford and GM mentioned in the article. Something akin to the dimensionaility of the old Mazda B2000 (pre-Ranger hook-up) or the pre-’05 Tacoma would be ideal for me.

    And forget about trying to make it car-like. Making it light and simple would lower the weight, the cost, and improve the fuel mileage. Plus, I’m a big fan of being able to hose out the interior after my dogs jump in after playing in mud puddles. 

  • Brian

    Ford has one reason to make a replacement Ranger : They are paranoid that it will eat into F-series sales. Ford losing the “#1 selling vechicle last 900 years running” title would cause VP heads to role.

    I am a life long Ford fan, but I don’t need an F-150 and when I had one, I felt it was just too big to drive around in the suburbs. And this was the ’97 version, which is a ton less bulker than todays trucks! Not to mention, while I could get a stripped down version of an F-150 to replace my Ranger, that also means I have a stripped down truck! 

    I do need a truck and have owned multiple Rangers in the past and now must shop elsewhere because Ford is too stubborn to listen to the market. 

  • Brian

    * one reason NOT to make a replacement Ranger…

  • Chuck Perry

    I want my 97 S-10

  • Chuck Perry

    with the new 6 speed and 3.6

  • The dimension difference is huge.  Ranger is the size of an Escape, and the F-150 is the size of an Expedition.  Now when it comes to SUVs they have 4 sizes. S/M/L/XL, but with trucks they only have XL?  I don’t see why SUVs can have 4 sizes, but trucks can only have 1.

  • GTR Godzilla fan

    Compact Advantage: 06 Nissan Frontier with it’s powerful V6 and shorter wheelbase, I can carve through slow traffic with almost as much fun as my Z . Try making time with a full size.  Best V6 for 17 years. And I can haul almost anything and do. Most pickups I see have one person and an empty bed anyway. If you want to look mocho  drive a semi.

  • I see a giant gap in the market, but IMO, it’s not filled by the Ranger or the Colorado, but rather something that looks a lot more like the Baja or Brat. Imagine a lite, short (but wide), FWD, 2 door, big cab, trucklet.  Not for towing or large hauling. Something without about 180hp and 3000lb towing.  Oh yeah, 30mpg City.  Eventually, an all EV model too.  Something like the the Fiat Stada or Scion A-Bat.  When I look at the Chevy Sonic from the front, I imagine it in trucklet form and think, yeah, that would look really cool and be really functional. Widen it, put a bench front seat for 3, give it a high 3 foot bed with under bed storage trunk  and giant rear window and you’ll fill the gap really nicely.

  • Gent987

    If the taxi had not run the red light and murdered my 1989 B2200 (not Ranger clone) 3 years ago, I would still be driving it.  It hauled 1500 lb of granite for steps, pulled a trailer full of lumber to the kiln and handled plywood and gypsum board.  It had better mileage than most of the current mid-size pickups and could be parked easily and handled well.

    I do not need a “compact” that is the equivalent of past full-size pickups.  I would settle for the old Baja, but i REALLY WANT A REAL COMPACT PICKUP!

  • Cm313divino

    The Ford Ranger, despite its 2.2 Liter displacements, it has high hauling and cargo capacity. I tried the Ford Ranger off road in one of the roughest terrains in Thailand. The off road capability is soooo good that not once did our off road team activated the 4WD system, and it did not show signs of being underpowered. (mind you it was rough off roading and the idea of having a 2.2 liter displacement while hauling lots of cargo made me feel uncomfortable off roading all of that went away when I experienced how the Ranger handles)

  • Tractorpunk

    I actually keep my fingers crossed for higher gas prices at times like these. My next pickup will be smaller, and I would love a truck with a small block diesel and 6.5 foot bed, a feature that made my old Dakota very useful for hauling. I use 4WD on are farm quite a bit in winter and “mud season” but the full-sized beast I use now, while hauling a lot, drinks gas faster than Tom Waits going through a case of Jim Beam.

  • RedRanger

    Interesting that Ford won’t make a truck that in some cases may steal some market share from the F150. Because they also make the Escape, Flex, Explorer and Edge, which are all similar size and similar market. 

    As a ranger owner, I need good gas mileage (i average 28), small (to maneuver in cities and parking lots), and with a big cargo and payload capacity. My truck has better gas mileage and a higher payload than most F150s because it’s weight isn’t taken up with enormous seats and needless electronics. All I’ve been looking at is Frontiers, because even the Tacoma is almost full size and full size price

  • Commishh

    I am really bummed out at the lack of small pickup trucks available in the USA!  Remember the old Datsun pickup with about 30 + miles per gallon and there are still some of us that still want that utility in a small pickup truck!  AC and a few other things could be added without making it a F-150!  With today’s technology it would get 35 to 40 mpg!!  And they say there is no market for that here!  

  • Jim

    I can’t stand it!   At $4 a gallon, we want a vehicle that can haul a ladder / cargo and get 30 MPG.   That WAS the Ford Ranger.   I’ve own Ford Rangers since 1986.   When my 06 gives up the ghost, I guess I’ll have to go foreign.    A sad, sad day indeed.

  • Ultralightpilot

    No one seems to bring the Sport Trac into this disscussion. I bought a 2001 Sport Trac in 2003 with 70k on the clock. It is still reliable for all of the varied jobs I use it for at 185k. I tow the atvs to Colorado (from Oklahoma), help friends move things that won’t fit in their SUV or van, go to the box store and with the help of the bed extender bring dimensional lumber 30 miles home, tow the 16ft ute trailer to the scrapyard with two or three tons of scrap, 1000 pounds of pellet fuel, cover 3/4ths the state of Oklahoma hauling equipment and co-workers for work, all the while getting 17 mpg combined and 22 highway. Cleans up for a night on the town with room for two couples. The international Ranger is more like the Sport Trac than our old Rangers ( I owned two of those and still have a ’86 Bronco II, the ute version of the Ranger in those days), and if it were reasonable to import one, I would, but for now Ford has no truck that meets my needs. My son-in-law has a ’09 F150 crew cab and it is a great truck, but not practical for me. If you want your truck to last a long time and still look good you have to park it indoors (at least in the Oklahoma weather) and few residential garages have the room to park a F150.

  • Guest

    a suburban dweller who works/commutes downtown so fuel efficiency, maneuverability,
    and park-ability are important to me. I
    want to be able to quickly put my dirty/wet dog in the back rather than her
    shaking scent all over the inside of my cars. I want to be able to get a new
    appliance, a new piece of furniture, a few sheets of sheetrock or plywood, some
    2x4s, bags of leaves, grass clippings, or mulch, for that matter, all kinds of
    dirty or large landscaping stuff, or loads of recreational stuff like bicycles,
    golf bags, etc. that quickly and easily load and transport in the back of a
    small pickup. I’ve been a S-10 owner (first pickup prekids) and a F150 owner (when
    I needed to impress or haul the whole family) but now with the kids growing up
    and driving themselves, an extended cab small pickup (even 4 door if small
    enough) would be perfect. Someone please downsize!

  • jollyvillejohn

    I am a suburb dweller who works/commutes downtown so fuel efficiency, maneuverability,
    and park-ability are important to me. I
    want to be able to quickly put my dirty/wet dog in the back rather than her
    shaking scent all over the inside of my cars. I want to be able to get a new
    appliance, a new piece of furniture, a few sheets of sheetrock or plywood, some
    2x4s, bags of leaves, grass clippings, or mulch, for that matter, all kinds of
    dirty or large landscaping stuff, or loads of recreational stuff like bicycles,
    golf bags, etc. that quickly and easily load and transport in the back of a
    small pickup. I’ve been a S-10 owner (first pickup prekids) and a F150 owner (when
    I needed to impress or haul the whole family) but now with the kids growing up
    and driving themselves, an extended cab small pickup (even 4 door if small
    enough) would be perfect. Someone please downsize!

  • John

    I had a Subaru Baja and had to junk it. Like jollyvillejohn, I need something to drive to and from work with good gas mileage, haul firewood and make some Home Depot runs. Tundra and F150 are bigger than I need. May have to get the Tacoma. I find the Scion A-Bat interesting and the Ford Ranger if it ever comes back.

  • AKAMick

    My Ford Ranger is still going at 400,000. I wanted to get another, but no more, I really don’t want to send my money to Asia, but looks like I got no choice, I just like the size, my ego doesn’t need a big vehicle, that’s taken care of.

  • lovethenewranger

    Don’t you hate it when these companies want to decide for us buyers? Internationlly the new Ranger is doing great in numbers and reviews. I work in South America and own one of these trucks. Great in everything! So, Ford executives, keep on punishing the company and leave that segment to the imports!(lol)

  • Corrupt Club

    Like the others here, I am annoyed with the car companies who killed off the small pick-up. I don’t work at a construction site. I don’t need a truck to express some suppressed desire “macho man”, i.e. my truck’s bigger than your truck, mental problem etc. I want a truck for around town that parks at the grocery store without turning me into pretzel man to get out of it. The full size pickups take up the whole parking space that was measured for crossovers and smaller cars. Other wise you have to park out on the edge of the parking lot and push your grocery cart out to the boonies when shopping is complete. A monster truck no thanks, like those for “sunday, sunday, sunday” Moto Monster stadium shows, is exactly what I don’t need. Or a gas guzzler, that dumps gasoline like a toilet flushing. Why not: a compact truck, straight 6 cylinder, or V6, fuel injection. bucket seats, Premo sound system, air cond., 6 speed transmission with 4 by 4 wheel drive, with a compound low gear, good cabin sound insulation. independent suspension on all 4 wheels. bed liner, storage bin with cover in the bed of the truck. heavy duty tie downs at 6 points in the bed of the truck. No electric doors, real gages no idiot-engine lights, . No ABS brakes, disk brakes on all 4 wheels.

  • gfdagfad

    just one more move to kill what ever was left of the usa auto industry. cant feel sorry, look a detriot. you make your bed some times you get to sleep in it. id rather have a toyota tacoma than a chevy gmc or ford small pickup in the first place. the tacomas are built in the usa by american workers. go figure ……

  • jerryhammons

    I would love to be able to buy a small pickup

  • Ford Ranger – Classic

    The current Global Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, and Toyota Tacoma are ‘mid-size trucks; 90% the size of full size does not make for is a true compact pickup truck.

    My 1996 Ford Ranger XLT 3.0 V6 still runs incredibly well, and will keep it running for as long as I can find parts; when needed. Should I ever need a replacement vehicle, it would be nice if there is a true compact pickup truck available to consider. If a similarly sized Ford Ranger compact pickup truck become available in the US domestic market – it should have 30+ mpg and options for AWD/4×4, 4,800 lbs towing capacity as well as interior cabin appointments and exterior boxy/truck-like design worthy of a newly redesigned, world class vehicle.

  • Bubbles

    In the 1980s, the small pickup was one of the cheapest vehicles available. I know many friends and family members whose first car was a small pickup truck.This was important because it meant that young people had access to reliable transportation. It was a huge inflection point in one’s coming of age to have a respectable vehicle that you knew was going to start and get you to work reliably, day after day, without incident. Plain and simple it was a source of dignity and so, basic human pride: having a job, buying a car, having reliability.

    When you are in high school and college you had a used vehicle that may or may not start, may or may not get you to your intended destination or not. They you got your first job and there’s the insecurity that your car may or may not get you to work on time. Then once or twice it doesn’t and now you have tension in your life and in your employment. Then you finally have enough money, get enough of a deal, to buy a new vehicle with a warranty. That makes life better for the employee, of course, and the employer, everybody.

    These pick up trucks provided that to a lot of people. They were cheap in part, I think, because they were regulated differently from automobiles. I particularly liked my brothers Mazda B2000 crew cab. It was fantastic inside and out. He installed his own sound system. It was perfect and dignified. And he could afford it. Lots of other people bought these trucks for practical reasons. It’s a shame they aren’t available anymore.

  • Mark Tate

    I own a 2000 Ranger with 240,000 miles.Replaced transmission and will rebuild motor when needed.Will drive it till I total it.Idiots are well and alive in Detroit!