Midsize pickup trucks become latest auto battleground

Midsize pickup trucks become latest auto battleground

2024 Toyota Tacoma Trail Hunter


DETROIT – Size matters. Just ask America’s largest automaker.

ford, General Motors and Toyota are among those increasingly looking to capitalize on the growing segment of midsize pickup trucks: vehicles big enough to fetch high prices but small enough to protect profit margins.

Small pickups have evolved from entry-level work trucks to expensive, capable, and highly profitable models that can cost upwards of $60,000 – on par with luxury vehicles from BMW, Cadillac, and others.

“It’s just not aimed at people on a budget, because I think that’s been the segment for a long time,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at auto research firm Edmunds. “Trucks are becoming more and more beautiful, with more amenities, more functions and more emphasis on design.”

Midsize pickup trucks follow the example of their larger full-size counterparts like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Toyota Tundra. They have become more powerful, larger and more expensive and have a variety of new luxury and off-road variants as well as special functions.

Sales of midsize vehicles have surpassed 600,000 since 2019 as consumer interest has shifted from traditional sedans to commercial vehicles such as crossovers, SUVs and, of course, pickups.

Over the past decade, sales of traditional midsize pickup trucks have more than doubled, accounting for 4.4% of U.S. vehicle sales last year — up from a tiny 1.6% in 2013 and the highest since 2005, like Edmunds.

S&P Global Mobility expects mid-size pickup truck sales to continue growing in the coming years, but to peak in 2026 with 4.6% of the U.S. market share.

The average price paid for one of the vehicles is also increasing: over the past decade, the average price has increased by 53% from about $28,100 to over $42,000, Edmunds reports. Price growth is 3 percentage points higher than in the entire industry.

The competition is increasing

The midsize pickup segment has grown from three vehicles produced a decade ago to now seven gasoline-powered pickups from Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Jeep, Nissan and Toyota. Half of the brands have announced redesigned vehicles this year, which is expected to increase interest and competition in this segment.

Toyota introduced its fourth-generation Tacoma pickup this week, a week later Ford engine introduced its redesigned Ranger for the USA General Motors has also arrived at dealerships with restyled versions of its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups.

2023 GMC Canyon AT4X Edition 1


“It’s really hotter than ever for midsize trucks,” Patrick Finnegan, senior manager for GMC trucks and full-size SUVs, told CNBC. “There is a lot more commitment, energy and enthusiasm [and] There is a momentum growing in this segment that we have never experienced before.

While Detroit-based automakers dominate sales of large pickup trucks, Toyota Motor and its Tacoma are the clear market leaders in mid-size pickup truck sales.

According to Edmunds, Toyota has had a roughly 40% share of America’s midsize pickup segment since 2019, when Ford and Jeep re-entered the market. That’s down from a market share of more than 60% a decade ago — although sales in Tacoma have since grown about 150% — as competing automakers launched new trucks.

It’s a position Toyota doesn’t want to relinquish: “[Tacoma] is the best-selling vehicle in this segment…our goal is to keep it that way,” said Joseph Moses, general manager, trucks and SUVs, Toyota North America.

Behind Toyota is GM. Edmunds reports that the Detroit-based automaker’s share of the US midsize pickup truck segment last year was about 19%, followed by Stellar‘ Jeep Gladiator with 12.8% and Nissan Frontier with 12.5%. Ford’s Ranger was at 9.4%, down from about 15% market share last year.

“I see no reason and no reason why Toyota’s dominance in this segment cannot continue,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior automotive analyst at S&P Global. “It’s been declining since 2017… but it’s still well over 200,000 units.” [annually]. Nobody else is even close.

Different strategies

The sales figures of the automobile manufacturers are an expression of their different strategies in the medium-sized pickup truck segment.

Promoting what it calls “a Tacoma for everyone,” Toyota offers several variations on its standard model, including a two-door version of the Tacoma, two different bed lengths, and a new high-end “Trailhunter” off-road model. Also, the Tacoma will be offered with a manual transmission – a rarity in today’s automotive industry.

Meanwhile, rivals have narrowed the number of cab and pickup box configurations they offer, moving exclusively to four-door midsize pickups with a single bed option to reduce complexity.

A large part of the mid-market option tends to be a sweepstakes. Ford CEO Jim Farley told investors last month that special variants — like a new high-performance Raptor model in Ford’s Ranger lineup — share about 80% of their parts with regular models, but have a 30% higher contribution margin.

The Raptor will start at $56,960. That’s nearly $23,000 more than the entry-level Ranger.

2024 Ford Ranger Raptor


“The Raptor will be at the high end of our Ranger offering,” said Gretchen Sauer, Ford’s marketing manager for the pickup. “It will increase our overall transaction price for Rangers.”

GM ranks Chevrolet as a mainstream brand for the mid-size pickup segment, while GMC specializes in high-end models.

GMC’s Finnegan said the brand expects to attract new customers with the redesigned Canyon. Much of that appeal is expected in the higher end of the market with GMC’s AT4 and AT4X off-road models, each of which can cost upwards of $60,000.

“It’s a priority for us to get into this segment and increase our share,” said Finnegan. “I think it’s safe to say that we believe the segment will grow given the many new entrants into this segment.”