2024 Toyota Tacoma Trailhunter
DETROIT — Size matters. Ask the biggest American automakers.
Ford, General Motors and Toyota are among those increasingly looking to capitalize on the growing midsize pickup segment: vehicles large enough to command high prices, but small enough to protect their profit margins.
Small pickups have evolved from entry-level work trucks to expensive, high-performance, highly profitable models that can cost upwards of $60,000 – in line with luxury vehicles from BMW, Cadillac and others.
“It’s just not for people on a budget, because I think that’s what the segment has been for a long time,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of knowledge at automotive research firm Edmunds. “Trucks are getting better and better with more amenities, more features and more emphasis on design.”
Midsize pickups follow the lead of their larger, full-size counterparts like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Toyota Tundra. They got better, bigger and more expensive, with an influx of new luxury and off-road variants, and special features.
Sales of midsize vehicles have exceeded 600,000 vehicles since 2019 as consumer interest has shifted from traditional sedans to utility vehicles such as crossovers, SUVs and, of course, pickup trucks.
Over the past decade, sales of traditional midsize pickup trucks have more than doubled to account for 4.4% of U.S. vehicle sales last year, up from a miniscule 1.6% in 2013 and the highest level ever. high since 2005, according to Edmunds.
S&P Global Mobility expects midsize pickup truck sales to continue to grow in coming years, but cap in percentage market share in the United States at 4.6% in 2026.
The average price paid for one of the vehicles is also on the rise: Over the past decade, the average price has increased 53%, from around $28,100 to over $42,000, Edmunds reports. This price growth is 3 percentage points higher than that of the industry as a whole.
The midsize pickup segment has grown from three vehicles in production ten years ago to seven gasoline-powered pickup trucks like Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Jeep, Nissan and Toyota. Half of the brands have announced redesigned vehicles this year, which should stimulate interest and competition in the segment.
Toyota this week unveiled its fourth-generation Tacoma pickup, a week after Ford engine unveiled its redesigned Ranger for the US General Motors also redesigned versions of its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups arriving at dealerships.
2023 GMC Canyon AT4X Edition 1
“It’s definitely hotter than ever in terms of midsize trucks,” Patrick Finnegan, senior manager of GMC trucks and full-size SUVs, told CNBC. “There is a lot more effort, energy and enthusiasm [and] momentum in this segment that we’ve never seen.”
While Detroit automakers dominate large pickup sales, Toyota Motor is the undisputed leader in midsize pickup sales with its Tacoma.
Toyota has owned about 40% of the U.S. midsize pickup segment since 2019, when Ford and Jeep returned to the market, Edmunds reports. That’s down from a market share of more than 60% a decade ago – despite Tacoma sales having jumped around 150% since then – as rival automakers launched new trucks. .
This is a position that Toyota has no intention of abandoning: “[Tacoma] is the best-selling vehicle in the segment…our intention is that it will continue,” said Joseph Moses, general manager of trucks and SUVs, Toyota North America.
Toyota behind is GM. Edmunds reports that the Detroit automaker’s share of the U.S. midsize pickup segment last year was around 19%, followed by Stellantide‘ Jeep Gladiator at 12.8% and Nissan Frontier at 12.5%. Ford’s Ranger was at 9.4%, down from around 15% market share the year before.
“I see no reason or reason why Toyota’s dominance in this segment shouldn’t hold,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at S&P Global. “It’s been down since 2017…but they’re still well above 200,000 units [annually]. No one else is even close.”
The sales volumes of automakers reflect their divergent strategies in the midsize pickup segment.
Toyota is promoting what it calls “a Tacoma for everyone,” offering several variations of its standard model, including a two-door version of the Tacoma, two different bed lengths, and a new top of the line all- ground. “Trailhunter” model. It also offers the Tacoma with a manual transmission – a rarity in today’s automotive industry.
Meanwhile, its competitors have limited the number of cab and box configurations they offer, switching exclusively to four-door midsize pickups with a bed option to reduce complexity.
Much of the mid-size optionality tends to be profit play. Ford CEO Jim Farley told investors last month that special variants — like a new performance Raptor model in Ford’s Ranger lineup — share about 80% of their parts with regular models, but have margins. 30% higher contribution.
The Raptor will start at $56,960. That’s nearly $23,000 more than the entry-level Ranger model.
2024 Ford Ranger Raptor
“The Raptor will be at the top of our Ranger offering,” said Gretchen Sauer, pickup truck marketing manager at Ford. “This will increase our overall transaction price for Ranger.”
GM considers Chevrolet as its primary brand for the midsize pickup segment, while GMC specializes in high-end models.
GMC’s Finnegan said the brand expects to increase the number of new customers with its redesigned Canyon. Much of that drawdown is expected at the high end of the market with GMC’s AT4 and AT4X off-road models, which can top $60,000.
“It’s a priority for us in terms of entering this segment and growing our share,” Finnegan said. “I think it’s probably safe to say that with all the new entries into the segment, we think the segment is going to grow.”