Small pickups aren’t so small anymore. The trucks we today consider mid-size have dimensions that aren’t far off the smallest full-size trucks from the 1990s.
Enter Ford. And soon, Hyundai.
While the Santa Cruz may be the star of the moment, thanks to finally being shown in the flesh after a long tease, the Ford Maverick may actually be the driving force (pun very much intended) behind any future growth in small trucks.
At least in part. The Maverick is an important product to be sure, and its impending arrival probably has forced other automakers to take notice. But it all starts with the growth of full-size trucks, in both size and price.
In other words, if the F-150s of the world hadn’t gotten so big and expensive, the Maverick might not have an opportunity.
We don’t know a lot, in terms of specs, about the Maverick so far, though we know it might have an FX4 trim (usually meant to signify off-road performance) and that it will be narrower, lower, and smaller than the Ranger.
It may also have front-wheel drive and a coil-spring, twist-beam rear suspension that bears similarity to what’s on offer in Ford’s Transit Connect van. All-wheel-drive is a likely possibility.
Size-wise, it may be comparable to the Bronco Sport. Look for unibody construction and a crew-cab configuration.
Although Hyundai took the wraps off the Santa Cruz this week, the Maverick is expected to also be on sale for the 2022 model year. Which means we could see it before the end of 2021.
That also means that there may be more mini-trucks on the way — trucks that are smaller than the current crop of mid-sizers.
We could spend all day speculating on what other brands might do. There are the realistic guesses — could Volkswagen bring the Tarok here? Then there are wilder guesses — what if Subaru brought back the Baja?
Indeed, one analyst we spoke to thought the small-truck market could follow the lead of the crossovers.
“The pickup market has gone haywire in terms of both size and pricing. Small trucks became mid-size trucks while full-size trucks have gotten bigger than ever. In step with that, new pickups in general have become much less affordable as their size and content have increased,” Ed Kim, vice president, industry analysis at AutoPacific, told us.
“I strongly believe there is a significant market for true compact pickups, especially new unit-body models like Santa Cruz and Maverick that blend good capability with a refined CUV-like drive character. These trucks will be more affordable than today’s mid-size models and will also no doubt bring advantages in drive refinement and fuel economy. Their unit-body construction also means they will likely have interiors that are at least as spacious as larger body-on-frame mid-size pickups. Considering that most retail pickup buyers actually use their trucks just like cars, smaller unit-body trucks could really find an audience in the same way unit-body crossover SUVs found an audience over two decades ago, and now represent the vast majority of SUVs today,” Kim said.
Only time will tell, but we tend to agree. After all, small trucks like the Maverick or Santa Cruz could prove to be a good solution for homeowners who rarely tow or use their bed, but do so juuuust enough that they decide they need a truck.
Say hello to the newest class of the automotive market. Leave it to a Maverick to start a trend.
[Images: Ford, Hyundai]