With full-size trucks continuing to swell in both size and sticker price, midsize – what is now being called “lifestyle” pickups – are growing both in sheer numbers and marketplace popularity.
The Toyota Tacoma continues to be the segment’s sales leader, followed by the recently re-introduced Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline, models, as well as the longstanding Nissan Frontier. The Ford Ranger midsize pickup is returning for 2019, with an all-new Jeep Gladiator, based on the Jeep Wrangler sport-utility vehicle, coming for the 2020 model year.
Meanwhile, Hyundai is working on a new small pickup of it’s own, which as of this writing is called the Santa Cruz. To be based on the next-generation Tucson SUV, the Hyundai pickup could debut as early as the 2021 model year. It’s expected to be followed by a companion model at Kia. And Volkswagen recently showed a small pickup called the Atlas Tanoak, which could find its way to the U.S. for a coming model year.
That’s certainly a lot of action in an automotive segment that was until recently all but left for dead. The Ranger, Colorado and Canyon were dropped from their respective lineups earlier in the decade because of flagging sales, with the Ridgeline taking off the 2015 and 2016 model years for a lack of takers.
Today, spurred by affordable gas prices and a skyrocketing consumer interest in trucks and SUVs, midsize pickup sales jumped 18 percent through the first 10 months of 2018, and have grown the last four years in a row. And the segment’s robust expansion isn’t expected to slow down soon.
According to a survey of 1,460 new-vehicle shoppers conducted by the website Autolist.com in San Francisco, Calif., 80 percent of those queried said lifestyle trucks have evolved significantly over the 20 years. To be sure they’re more stylish and sophisticated than in the past, with GMC offering an opulently equipped and leather-trimmed Denali version of the Canyon that tops out at around $52,000 with all options included.
“We’re about to enter a golden era for lifestyle trucks,” says Chase Disher, chief analyst at Autolist.com. “Consumers have watched unrefined SUVs from the past evolve into very desirable crossovers today, and our study shows that they expect the same evolution in lifestyle trucks.”
Much of the segment’s growth can be attributed to their appeal among active individuals; this is as compared to full-size models, which are primarily built to accomplish heavy-duty tasks. Usefulness of the cargo bed was cited as the biggest draw in Autolist.com’s survey. To that end, the new Jeep Gladiator was designed to accommodate a pair of dirt bikes or an all-terrain vehicle in its tidy cargo bed for outdoor adventurers.
Specially equipped four-wheel-drive editions built for off-roading are especially popular among small-truck buyers. These feature added items like a lifted suspension, skid plates, off-road-rated tires and specific gearing systems to maximize their trail-blazing abilities.
According to Edmunds.com, the TRD off-road versions of the Toyota Tacoma account for more than half of all its sales. Likewise, the Chevrolet Colorado’s Z71 off-road package is included with 30 percent of that model's sales, with a new Z71 Trail Runner trim coming in early 2019.
While Autolist.com’s survey found that 62 percent of consumers contacted will “definitely’ or “probably” consider buying a compact or midsize truck for their next vehicle, don’t expect buyers in the fiercely loyal full-size pickup market to downsize their rides any time soon. Only 19 percent of these folks said they’d consider a compact/midsize truck for their next purchase.
© CTW Features