Today: Why Does Nobody Make Little Trucks?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 16, 2014

Dear Tom and Ray:

Remember those Datsun mini-trucks that used to be around? Where did that class of trucks go? It seems like all you can get now is a full-size F-150 or similar. Is there anything like those old Japanese mini-trucks still on the market, or should I start shopping for a classic El Camino? What happened to the small trucks?

-- Bryant

RAY: People stopped buying them.

TOM: There still is a class of pickup truck smaller than the full-size F-150s, Silverados and Ram 1500s. But they're not much smaller.

RAY: Toyota still makes the Tacoma. Nissan still makes the Frontier. And Chevy is coming out with a redesigned Colorado for 2015.

TOM: But these are not mini-trucks. The trucks you remember were, essentially, compact Japanese cars with pickup-truck beds. They were cheap, lightweight and utilitarian.

RAY: Not enough people want that anymore. Pickup trucks have become large, luxury cars. The smallest two-door Toyota Tacoma these days, for example, is only about a foot and a half shorter than the smallest full-size Toyota Tundra. And that Tacoma is still 208 inches long -- only a little shorter than the old Lincoln Town Car land yachts that used to ply the airport terminals.

TOM: And even though you can order it with a four-cylinder engine and get a little better mileage than the full-size Tundra, it's a cheaper and less-capable vehicle. So unless maneuverability or parking is an issue, most buyers choose the larger, more comfortable, more up-to-date Tundra.

RAY: The problem for manufacturers is that, once you design and build a smaller pickup truck and equip it with everything a modern vehicle needs to have, it doesn't cost much less than a full-size pickup. And the mileage isn't that much better. So most people go for the bigger truck.

TOM: You should have a look at the Chevy Colorado when it comes out. That'll be the most modern and up-to-date of the less-than-full-size pickup trucks out there.

RAY: You can look at the Honda Ridgeline (which is more carlike than other pickups, but not much smaller).

TOM: You can look for a used Subaru Baja, which was the most recent El Camino-ish vehicle that failed to sell and was killed off. It was last made in 2006.

RAY: You can look for a used Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which was last made in 2010. That's a Ford Explorer with a pickup-truck bed. Again, not small, but smaller than a full-size pickup.

TOM: You can look for a classic El Camino, or even a really old Toyota or Datsun truck, if you're willing to give up safety and reliability.

RAY: But what you're really lusting after just isn't for sale anymore, Bryant. At least not in the United States.

TOM: If you're willing to relocate, then we can help you out. Go to any third- or even second-world country, and you can have your pick of cheap, small pickup trucks. Just don't look too closely at the body panels, because you may see the words "Hungry Man Dinner" stamped into them.


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