Resurrection of the Small Pickup Truck

Have you noticed more pickup trucks on the road lately? We certainly have. According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), pickup trucks were four of the top 10 bestselling new vehicles in the first half of 2021 in Canada. Whereas passenger car sales dropped by 7.8% in the first quarter this year compared to the same period in 2020, sales for trucks and SUVs rose by 22.0%. And of the 10 new electric vehicles (EVs) KBB is keeping an eye on for 2022, the GMC Hummer EV, set for release in 2022, is technically a GMC pickup truck. What happened?

History of the Compact Pickup

Although Gottlieb Daimler of Germany is credited with designing the first internal combustion engine pickup truck in 1896, it looks more like a horseless wagon. By 1908, though, Daimler had designed a vehicle closer in form to today’s pickup. Of course, the name synonymous with pickup trucks is Ford, and Ford Motor Company released the Model TT in 1917.

You might debate if it was really a pickup truck: the Model TT was the Model T with a longer wheelbase, and the buyer had to build the sides and tailgate of the truck bed. Chevrolet manufactured pickup trucks in a factory beginning in 1918, and the sales race for light pickup trucks was on.

The Japanese brand Datsun, later known as Nissan, introduced its small pickup truck in the 1950s. For a while, it was a top seller in its segment. Other Japanese companies, such as Toyota, joined the small pickup truck segment in the 60s, and Mazda followed suit in the 70s. Small pickup trucks were so popular in the 70s that Chevrolet used their ownership of Japanese company Isuzu to re-badge and import a small Isuzu truck to compete with the other Japanese brands.

The Fall of the Small Pickup

In the 2000s, there were many compact pickup trucks on the market from American and Asian manufacturers. Throughout the decade, they gradually got larger than their predecessors and eventually offered heavy-drinking V6s with more power than ever.

The recession of 2009 really hurt the medium truck segment, which had sales leaders like the Dodge Dakota and Ford Ranger. All three automakers ceased production on their trucks within a few years of the recession, and the three main trucks that continued were re-classified as mid-sized trucks. The Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier soldiered on without a redesign for over 10 years, something unheard of in the automotive world. (Most cars see a major redesign about every six years.)

The Return of the Small Pickup

The small pickup resurrection can be attributed to two factors in the market: gas prices and new market demands.

Gas prices have been relatively low since the recession, making gas-guzzling vehicles more affordable. This has increased the demand for pickups of any size again.

The second factor, market demands, comes from increasingly active families who need vehicles with more room in them. Included in this push for more space is the second largest vehicle segment, SUVs. Today’s small pickups, like the Ford Maverick, combine the best parts of an SUV and a pickup truck to be the perfect vehicles for young families. By borrowing drivetrains from popular SUVs, small pickups are more efficient and refined than ever and don’t sacrifice utility.

The Future of Small Pickup Trucks

Small pickup trucks may not have been what North Americans wanted in the mid-aughts. However, with modern engine and drivetrain technology, plus roomier interiors, today’s small pickup trucks offer an opportunity to own a very capable vehicle that can fit many needs of modern families. Since this resurgence has been taking place over a few years now, you should be able to find used pickup trucks that suit your family’s lifestyle, too.