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Nissan Frontier benefitting from small pickup truck void

March 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
In 2011, the last of the truly small pickup trucks went away. Ford discontinued its Ranger model rather than spend money to redesign it.

Now the Nissan Frontier could benefit from the void left by the disappearing Ranger. Of the smaller trucks available, it's the most basic and utilitarian in terms of looks and feel. It has a base price of $22,780.

Nissan officially classifies the Frontier as a mid-size and in crew cab configuration it isn't exactly tiny. But all the other small trucks have grown as well as each generation replaces the previous one. The U.S. auto industry says the truly small trucks from years past just don't have wide appeal anymore.

The heyday of small pickup trucks were from the late 1970s to early 1980s. They came in all types on configurations, from scruffy work trucks to full customs. In the years since, not only have the truck themselves gotten bigger, but so has the popularity of true full pickup trucks.

That's part of what's been leading to their demise. Large trucks aren't that much more expensive than the small ones and can sometimes cost less with rebates and incentives.

Fully-loaded models like the Frontier aren't exactly fuel savers either. The crew cab with four-wheel drive is only rated at 14 mpg city and 19 highway. .

So can small trucks make a comeback if there's demand? Here's one way: Honda's Ridgeline could be a glimpse into the future. It's not especially small, it's not especially inexpensive and it hasn't sold especially well for Honda, so far. But it's an example of a truck that didn't start out as one. It's based on Honda's Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan, vehicles that aren't trucks underneath, but more like cars.

Honda could make a compact truck from its smaller CRV crossover the same way and other brands could follow suit if demand ever swells again for small pickups. That's a pretty big "if." In the meantime, there's a shrinking choice in small trucks, trucks that really aren't all that small anymore.


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