Is the future of Pickup Trucks actually a car?
Ford is discontinuing car production in 2020, with the exception of the Mustang. GM announced that it's discontinuing 6 of its' car models in the next year. Crossovers and SUVs are selling at higher an higher rates. But, the top 3 selling vehicles in Canada/US are still pickup trucks. The Ford F Series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Dodge Ram lines sold almost 2 million units in the US alone in 2017.
I've previously discussed the departure of many of the car and sedan models from the North American market, and the rise of crossovers. Trucks are still in a strong #1 position right now though. But why? When was the last time you heard your friend with an F-150 filling it's bed with something, or towing something other than a jet ski/snowmobile a handful of times per year?
The honest truth is that the majority of buyers of Full Size pickups and SUVs don't regularly tow, haul, carry, or off road. Full size pickups have gained size more than any other segment, I wager. Let's take the F-150, the #1 selling vehicle. In regular bed size and trim, a 2018 model is 24.9 inches longer than a 1998 model (207 in vs 231.9 in)! So what solution is there if people want to have the utility of a pickup truck available, but don't need something the size of a small continent that can pull a building off its foundation?
Honda set out in the early 2000s to fill that niche. In North America, you're not known as a full line manufacturer unless you have an SUV and a truck in your lineup. Instead of going after the F-150, Silverado, and RAM sales, Honda went after a portion of the market in between the car and pickup truck segments. In 2005, The Honda Ridgeline went on sale, and despite it being derided as "not a real truck", it continued on to modest success. Enough so, that Honda went on to design and market a second generation, which went on sale in 2016.
Honda was a bit of a pioneer when it released the original Ridgeline. The midsize and small truck market was basically non-existent as this was pre-recession. Now, the Toyota Tacoma is a cult hit, the Ford Ranger is back next year, and we have new entries on the way from a couple of unlikely players, Mercedes and Hyundai.
Mercedes is getting into the light truck game with the new X Class pickup. Trying to combine their brand cache in North America with some additional utility is going to be an interesting play. Will consumers buy into it? In North America at least, I think they need to play to their strengths, and lean into the luxury side of this niche to be successful.
Hyundai is reportedly fast tracking their first North American small pickup based on their Santa Cruz concept. For Hyundai, they need to play to a different strength. They've had the biggest brand perception lift of any automaker in the last 20 years. Most of that coming in the last 10-12 years, based on a few key things:
Value: The "Santa Cruz" needs to provide more bang for it's buck than other offerings, whether that's through price differential, or equipment offerings.
Warranty: The Hyundai Warranty needs to continue. They need to show that they're confident that they've designed the vehicle to last longer than their peers.
Design: Like I've mentioned previously, people buy with their eyes. An ugly vehicle, as good as it is simply doesn't sell as well as a good looking one. The concept they provided is actually gorgeous, and if they can stay fairly faithful to that, Hyundai may have an out of nowhere smash on their hands.
So, even though it seems the car's heyday is behind it and trucks and SUVs are the trend, the future of the truck may actually be car based as the Ridgeline, X Class, and "Santa Cruz" are all car based in construction. Sometimes the world we live in is weirdly cyclical.
So, what do you think? Are people going to be willing to open their minds to the possibility to buying a Mercedes or Hyundai truck?