There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the arrival of new, or rather re-introduced, players to the compact truck market, the promising Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon and I got to thinking about the small truck market. We've all hear the small truck marker is dead or dying, so why now? is this just a desperate gamble, or shrewd timing? Do compact trucks have a place in this market?

Lets start off by listing a few of the arguments I typically hear against small trucks:


1. Compact trucks aren't compact anymore, they are pretty much as big as a full size truck

2. There is no market for it, its not worth building.

3. But I get more for my money with a full size truck.

4. 'Merica

To frame this, I want to say that I have no beef if you want or need a full size truck; work needs to get done and the person with the most toys wins, or so I'm told. Also, my arguments are based on data I gathered on the best comparisons I could get from 3 points in model year history 1995, 2005 and 2013/14. These obviously don't take into consideration all possible engine, cab, wheelbase, and drive-train combos because the entire history of numbers can't contain all possible permutations of pickup trucks over time.


1. Back in the day, a compact truck used to be small, now they are just pretty much full size trucks. Nope.

Aggregating the data for 2014 Nissan Frontier, 2014 Toyota Tacoma, 2012 Chevy Colorado and what we know of the 2015 Colorado in their extended cab long bed configurations (longest possible) you are shy of a modern 1/2 ton (averaged against F150, tundra, Silverado) in the follow ways:

Length: ~13 inches shorter

Width: ~8 inches narrower

Height: ~6 inches lower

Weight: ~1200 lbs. less weight

This confirms at least one thing; new trucks are big. But I've heard it said that compact trucks are what full size were 10 or 15 years ago. Nope. Compared to a mid 90's sampling we get:

Length: 2 inches shorter

Width: ~6 inches narrower

Height: ~ 3 inches lower

Weight: ~1000 lbs. less weight.

The fact is this: Compact trucks are smaller and lighter than a full size, and by significant margins.

2. There is no market for them. I guess the question that needs to be asked is; how many units do you need to make of a new model for it to be worth it (annually)? 10,000, 50,000, 100,000? I don't have the answer to that but will ask the question, how many MINI's are sold each year in the US? How about Jaguar/Land rover? Brands with complete lineups of cars with dedicated dealer networks and associated expenses. It might surprise you to know that in the US the MINI brand sold about 50,000 TOTAL MINI's in 2013. Jaguar/Land Rover? They had a record setting sales year at 67,000. This is a simplistic view of the market but given than many manufactures are chasing niche model sales numbers in the 10,000 unit range, i would call 50,000 annual units as a good selling vehicle worth building.

We all know that compact trucks had a serious decline in sales, which prompted all but Nissan, Chevy and Toyota to pull out from the market...but how bad is it really?

Last year the market for compact trucks was over 220,000 US units sold between the Frontier and Tacoma alone (the terrible previous Colorado was discontinued to be re-introduced but was selling roughly 35,000 units a year before the end). The ford ranger was selling ~55,000 units a year up until as recently as 2011 (discontinued in 2012)


The market goes up and down with the years, but the data suggests that there are ~200-250 thousand buyers in the compact truck market annually. Given that there are only 3 brands competing in the space, and the metric of 50,000 units for profitability, I would say there is definitely a place. Then factor in that even the old designs for compact trucks on the current market (frontier and Tacoma are nearly a decade old) still beat out full size trucks by an average of 3 mpg combined. Given the trends of downsizing and efficiency, that gas mileage will factor more and more into car buyers decisions and it seems to me that there is a clear market space for a light duty truck that is still light duty.

3. But I can get the full size truck for about the same price and get so much more!

You are actually right, given incentives and the high demand and resale in the compact market, full size trucks are often on parity with or cheaper than compacts.

The real question here is: what do you need a truck for?

Is it for heavy work (6000 lbs+ towing/1000 lbs+ payload 20% of the time) then you really should consider if the reduced stress of having an average of 158 hp and 169 ft-lbs more (highest power 1/2 ton engines compared to compact) and heavier duty components wont pay dividends greater than the loss of economy or the size penalty.


If however you need a vehicle for occasional trips to home depot, pulling a light trailer or boat or active gear like camping and biking, then why is the extra utility valuable? Sometimes more is just more. Factor in that Compacts traditionally have excellent resale values, cheaper operating costs and lower insurance premiums and it could become a proposition worth considering. And with a diesel finally being offered, it may actually even be a prudent choice over a crossover vehicle for a small family, given the mileage and resale associated with diesel engines in the US.

With the 2015 Colorado/Canyon on the horizon and the Frontier/Tacoma due for updates I think we will start to see the market actually increase. I honestly think the future looks pretty bright for compact trucks.

4. There is nothing I can say here to appeal to the people who want to fight me on this one. Believe it, or don't.