When Ford ended production of the Ranger in December 2011, America lost its last truly compact pickup—an anachronism, untouched by the decade-long trend of ballooning trucks. While the Toyota Tacoma, the Chevy Colorado, and the Nissan Frontier grew in mass and capability, the overall size of the compact-truck segment shriveled. But Ford thinks it may have the situation figured out—or, at least, untangled.

“The overlap with full-size trucks in size, price, and fuel economy made no sense for the consumer,” Doug Scott, the marketing manager for Ford trucks explained to us at the Chicago auto show. “It led to the death of the shrinking of the compact segment from two million trucks to 250,000 last year.” Blame, if you must, the usual focus groups and feature creep for the ever-expanding trucks. Even more than with cars, every new pickup generation must be better than ever, so more powerful, capable of carrying more payload, and have a higher tow rating.

Is there any remaining consumer interest in a compact pickup that’s actually compact? “You bet,” Scott says. “We’ve spent a lot of time with customers, and we know there is a market for a true compact truck. But you have to have—and we have a pretty good handle on it, we think—a significant difference in size, price, and fuel economy. We think we know what it looks like.” In short, it would need about 1000 pounds of payload capacity, 3000 pounds of towing, and a dramatic reduction in fuel consumption. Does it need to be a traditional body-on-frame truck? “No,” Scott answers. The target consumers really don’t care, as long as a car-based pickup is durable and can haul what they need. Add a reasonable sticker, and “that formula will work.”

Should a genuinely small Ranger or F-100 like this be approved for production, Ford’s strategy would be at odds with General Motors’, which turned to its global product portfolio for the new Chevy Colorado. Designed for countries where there are no full-size trucks, the Colorado is roughly 90 percent of a Silverado in size; GM execs have said that the Colorado will deliver about 20-percent-better fuel economy than its larger sibling. Ford looked at its own global pickup, called the Ranger (pictured above), and concluded the overlap with the F-150 would just be too vast. Just adding a four-cylinder engine or a diesel isn’t enough. The only sensible option, in Ford’s view, is to do something very different. It looks like Fiat, too, is considering something similar—rumors circulated this week that the company is considering bringing the car-based Strada to the U.S. as a Ram, something of a 21st-century El Camino.


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This is not to say that the future of an F-100 is rock solid—far from it. The truck’s sales would need to justify the billion-plus-dollars it costs to engineer any new vehicle, a task made even harder by the tiny window in which prices could be set: Too close to the F-150, which starts at about $24,500 before discounts, and many shoppers will just opt for the bigger of the two. But there’s also a floor on just how cheap a new car can be in the U.S., with the most basic of Fiestas stickering at $14,000. While we’re piling on the difficulties, that Fiesta is built in Mexico, where labor costs are a fraction of what they are in the States; a pickup would have to be built here to avoid the 25-percent “Chicken tax” our government levies on imported light trucks. “The challenge,” Scott adds, is “making a business case out of it that makes sense. We’re still working on it.”

By Justin Berkowitz

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