America is getting smaller


The return of the midsize truck

This is the first of an infrequent collection of musings. The common thread will be observations of new discoveries and experiences that pique my interest as a Brit living in the US with a love of all things innovative.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about US culture is the love of trucks. According to MotorTrend.com, almost 2 million trucks were sold in the US in 2012. I’m no automobile geek (one of the reasons I love living in San Francisco is that I can cycle everywhere) but there’s something fascinating about trucks standing for supremely American values — ruggedness, practicality, manliness, independence, accessing the great outdoors, and a work enabler:

“The pickup truck is very much a part of Americana. It’s connected with the idea of a man going out to work hard and create his own path. The truck is a tool to do that.”

Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at the research firm AutoPacific.

What’s struck me most though is their size, particularly those trucks that haven’t been chosen for practical work purposes. Take for example the Ford F-150 King Ranch with its Chaparral leather-trimmed, heated and cooled 10-way power driver and passenger bucket seats, and a starting price of $20k over the base F-150 model. I doubt that many King Ranch trucks have conquered building sites.

So I was most intrigued to read that GM are planning to reignite the midsize truck market in the US with the launch of a new Chevy Colorado in late 2014. It will be lighter, narrower, lower and shorter than the Silverado. These surely aren’t the right comparatives for the engines that drive America. Have the vegetarians won?

There were once 11 compact truck models sold in the US, but there are now only four — Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Suzuki Equator and Toyota Tacoma — none of which come from a US company. Ford were the last domestic manufacturer to leave the midsize market at the end of 2011 but the post-bailout GM clearly believe that there is a bigger market for smaller trucks than is being served at the moment.

GM’s stated aim is to bridge the gap between lifestyle vehicles and work trucks, combining payload and ruggedness with better fuel efficiency and creature comforts like touchscreen navigation & lane departure warning systems. The Colorado range is also highly likely to feature the first ever diesel engine in this segment when it’s introduced in 2015.

My gut is that this launch will turn out to be a really smart decision by GM, bringing innovation and focus back to a neglected segment. The size and fuel economy of a fully-featured midsize truck would bring a truck into my consideration set for the first time too — not only could I get my bikes on the back for a family trip to the hills, but I could also fit into a Compact parking space at Whole Foods when buying my Tofurky.

Written by

Keith Martin

Coventry, Cambridge, London and now San Francisco.

Published December 4, 2013

 

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