Will Smaller Pickups Be More Popular Than Carmakers Expect?

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2015 Chevrolet Colorado, 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show

2015 Chevrolet Colorado, 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show

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Sometimes it's the throwaway lines that carry the most interesting news.

In a routine report on August sales of new cars and trucks last Wednesday, The Detroit News had this nugget about the upcoming 2015 Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup truck:

"GM said dealers have ordered nearly 28,000 midsize Colorado pickups—about seven times what GM predicted—and 14,000 Canyons."

DON'T MISS: 2015 Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon Gas Mileage: 20 Or 21 MPG Combined For V-6

That's interesting.

For one thing, GM has broken decisively with Ford, its arch-rival in pickup truck sales, in launching mid-size pickups to provide a smaller alternative to its full-size line, last redesigned for the 2014 model year.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

Enlarge Photo

Ford says it sees little role for small pickups--though apparently many still mourn the loss of the modestly priced Ford Ranger compact pickup truck last sold in 2011--and will offer lower-priced versions of its full-size Ford F-150 to buyers who want a less-expensive truck.

The third Detroit contender, Fiat Chrysler, offers a diesel engine in its Ram 1500--GM and Ford are gasoline only in their full-size pickups--for much better on-road fuel economy, even if it's still a full-size truck.

So if GM isn't just posturing to drive interest in the trucks, what might strong consumer demand for mid-size pickups tell us?

ALSO SEE: Pickup Truck Gas Mileage, 2015 And Beyond: 30 MPG Highway Is Next Hurdle

For one thing, the return of a U.S.-branded contender to that category is probably a good thing. GM's Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon went out of production in 2012, so it's likely there are owners who want a new one.

Similarly, the Dodge Dakota departed in 2011.

So while there are two import-brand contenders, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, domestic-truck fans may be waiting eagerly.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

Enlarge Photo

More than that, it probably indicates there's now a larger market than expected for a vehicle with pickup truck functionality that isn't as large as full-size pickups have gotten.

Take a Ford F-150 or Chevy pickup from the mid-1980s and compare it to a Colorado, and you might be surprised how close it is (and how low to the ground). Full-size pickups are now really big (and startlingly tall as well).

MORE: Nissan Frontier Diesel Pickup Truck: Prototype Drive Review

That said, it doesn't appear that any U.S. or foreign maker sees a market for Ranger-size pickups.

While that was the size that introduced Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and other makes to the truck market in the 1970s, it's unlikely we'll see trucks that small in the market again.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

Enlarge Photo

The cost of meeting safety regulations and consumer expectations on equipment, comfort, features, and capacity means that truly small pickups sold in other markets would require hugely expensive adaptations to meet U.S. expectations.

And there's an argument that their functions have been usurped by small SUVs and crossover utility vehicles anyhow.

Still, if sales of the upcoming 2015 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups do better than expected--especially once the diesel engine is introduced for 2016--there's always the chance it'll get some manufacturers to reconsider.

As always, the determining factor will be the relative cost of meeting corporate average fuel-economy (CAFE) regulations by developing smaller pickups versus simply making the big ones more fuel-efficient.

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