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Mid-size truck competition heating up for 2015

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For 2015, the mid-size pickup truck segment is shaping up to have four serious contenders - all with new or improved trucks that are targeted to increase the size of the segment offering increased capability and improved amenities that appeals to a broader consumer market.

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With introductions in November and January, General Motors has jumped back into the mid-size pickup segment with their all new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and 2015 GMC Canyon trucks that will be available in late 2014 to reengage the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier as the year ends.

During 2013, market segment sales were almost 227,000 vehicles - essentially owned by the popular Toyota Tacoma (70 percent) and the very sturdy Nissan Frontier (28 percent) with the balance of sales coming from the remaining units of the last generation Colorado and Canyon that were discontinued in 2012.

Historically, the mid-size pickup truck segment has targeted two groups of users – the small service business or independent contractor and, the usually younger, sport truck enthusiast who was attracted by the available performance options and reasonable (less than full-size) price points.

While the full-size truck market has grown significantly over the last several years, driven by changing consumer tastes and demand for a truck with more capability and a family-centric (including technology) orientation, the mid-size segment has remained relatively stable at just over or under 250,000 vehicles annually.

The mid-size players back in 2010 – sales of just under 244,000 – were the Toyota Tacoma (106,198), Ford Ranger (55,364), Nissan Frontier (40,427), Chevrolet Colorado (24,642), Dodge (now Ram) Dakota (13,047) and GMC Canyon (7,992). The mid-size segment peaked at about 275,000 in 2011.

The Dodge (Ram) Dakota was discontinued following the 2010 model year when the new Fiat Chrysler made the decision to put all of their resources into developing a whole new full-size pickup, the Ram 1500.
Ram brand has said they have no current plans to offer a mid-size truck, choosing to focus on building further on their fast growing market share in full-size with their innovation segment leader – the Ram 1500.

Ford chose to focus its considerable resources on continuing to evolve their very successful (and highly profitable) F-150 for the U.S. market and discontinued the Ranger (for North America) after 2011.

Ford has continued the Ranger in a global version being sold in many areas of the world - garnering significant accolades along with questions about it being brought into the U.S. market. Ford has denied any plans to do so – believing that it would likely take sales from their more profitable F-150 full-size truck.

General Motors – with the discontinuance of the older generation trucks in 2012 – adopted a strategy to bring out two totally new trucks, looking to respond to a changing pickup truck market demand that now included a family-centric truck option with more amenities, technology and capability.

This resulted in the recent debut of the all-new 2015 Colorado and 2015 Canyon that they believe will re-position their brands as more family-centric and even more capable, giving them broader market appeal – thus making them more competitive in the segment.

General Motors feels that the new mid-size trucks will have only a minimal impact on their (also) all-new full size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks. The see the new Colorado and Canyon as readily able to take on the both the Tacoma and the Frontier by addressing the family-centric market demand expansion for mid-size pickup trucks that offer more capability with a price point that will be attractive to either buyers from another segment or those who have settled for a ‘sport type’ truck to meet their price point or size needs in the past.

We see the buyer changing segment as the biggest untapped market opportunity for the 2015 version of mid-size trucks for all of the manufacturers.

Here in Texas, as well as other parts of the country, the new family vehicle has become the crew cab pickup truck which offers more family functionality along with all of the desired amenities that were formerly only available in a CUV or SUV. The market increased for full-size pickup trucks at the expense of similar sized CUV and SUV vehicles as a result.

Until now, there was not a similar option for those who desired a crew cab truck, albeit smaller, to meet their family-centric needs.

We think that the potential for market share growth will come similarly at the expense of the medium-size CUV and SUV segment as the new mid-size trucks from GM offer the consumer that same (or better) value in a smaller size (also fits well in a garage) complete with those desired family-centric attributes.

So where does that leave the current market leaders, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier?

Though there are no formal or official announcements by Toyota or Nissan so far, there are ‘noises’ in the market indicate that both will be responding to the new GM trucks and the changing mid-size pickup truck market in their 2015 versions of the Tacoma and Frontier.

Toyota Tacoma

We have been pressing Toyota officials about how the 2015 Tacoma is intending to meet the challenge of the new GM trucks. As late as last week the answer we got – as we expected - was “We do not comment on future products that may or may not be in the pipeline”.

The word we do hear on the street is to expect a significant exterior redesign for the 2015 Tacoma with body style changes that present both a sleeker image and improve the aerodynamics for fuel economy. Also expect more aluminum to be used to reduce weight.

On the inside, expect improved materials and increased amenities probably taking cues from the family –centric features added to the new 2014 Tundra.

There is considerable speculation that there may be some new power train options in the 2015 Tacoma. We certainly hope so as one of our disappointments with an otherwise very much improved 2014 Tundra was that there were no changes in the power train. We are hearing things like adding start/stop technology and a new 6-speed automatic transmission – the combination of which will certainly improve mileage.

The Tacoma will continue to be offered in a standard cab along with their Access Cab (extended) and Double Cab (crew) to accommodate families and have all-wheel-drive available for those wanting sport or off-road performance.

Nissan Frontier

Nissan is focused currently on getting a new full-size Titan in the market some time in 2015, but is reported to be making some changes to the 2015 Frontier that will respond to the changing market and the GM challenge.

Expect a 2015 Frontier to have more aluminum content for lighter weight and interior upgrades in materials and amenities offered to create a more family-centric appeal in their King Cab and Crew Cab.

The truck will still offer five models from the basic S through the Desert Runner and the PRO-4X keeping them solidly in the sport truck and off-road segment niches.

The power trains for the 2015 Frontier will include the 2.5L four-cylinder at 152 horsepower mated with the CVT transmission and a V6 generating 261 horsepower and mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive will be available in the V6 version.

Lastly, the rumor mill says that there may well be a hybrid power train offering for the 2015 Frontier.

Stay tuned, there will be more information coming on Tacoma and Frontier – along with more performance data on the Colorado and Canyon as we move through 2014 to their arrival in dealerships late in the year.

Note: We did not include the Honda Ridgeline -being discontinued in 2014 and supposed to return in 2016 - or the Chevrolet Avalanche (now discontinued) in this report as we do not consider them in the category of mid-size trucks without offering more than the crew cab configuration.

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