GM sees possibilities in the shrinking small(er)-pickup segment


By Jeremy Sinek

After a two-year absence, General Motors is reincarnating its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups. That will make it the only Detroit automaker to return to the small – well, let’s call it the not-quite-full-size – pickup segment.

Dodge shows no sign of replacing its midsize Dakota that it stopped building in mid 2011. Likewise Ford with its Ranger, which dominated the segment until its expiry in 2011.

Although GM’s re-entry should reverse the segment’s recent decline, it’s unlikely to dramatically reinvigorate sales numbers that have plunged from over 40,000 in 2010 (13.5 percent of all pickup sales) to 13,500 in 2013 (4.3 percent). And let’s not call it the small pickup segment.

Twenty years ago, that word could legitimately be applied to the not-full-size category. The popular regular-cab base models were about the same size as a typical compact sedan; some offered cramped extended-cab versions but there were certainly no full-four-door crew cab options.

Even as recently as 2010, the Ford Ranger fit that mold. And Ranger and its Mazda B-Series twin together accounted for more than half of the segment’s sales. Since their departure, the segment has defaulted into a midsize category, led by the Toyota Tacoma, and dominated by Crew Cab models; regular cabs are not even available in Canada on the Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier.

Nor are there regular-cab versions of the 2015 Canyon and Colorado, at least not in Canada. In some otherworld markets, regular-cabs do exist. But U.S/Canadian versions will come as an extended-cab with rear-hinged doors and side-facing rear seats or as a full four-door crew cab. The rear seats will also be a delete option on the extended cab, for customers who would rather use the rear cabin for cargo.

GM says it is aiming the new pickups at customers “who want the cargo-hauling and trailering versatility of a truck without the size of a full-size pickup.”

Canadian Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer for GM’s large and mid-size trucks, identified four potential sources of sales: loyalists of the former Canyon/Colorado; conquest sales from Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier (the current generations of which are getting long in tooth); downsizing customers who currently drive full-size Ford or Ram trucks; and CUV owners looking for more capability.

Of course, the Colorado and Canyon could also provide a home for buyers downsizing from GM’s own full-size pickups.

It is too soon for pricing, but one GMC official told Canadian AutoWorld there will be a “noticeable” price difference from the Sierra.

In extended-cab form, the 2015s are about 140 mm longer than their predecessors, but 440 mm shorter than the equivalent full-size Sierra/Silverado. They claim segment-leading payload (at least 657 kg) and tow rating (up to 3,039 kg properly equipped).

At launch this fall, two gasoline engines will be offered – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and a 3.6-litre V6 – both claiming best-in-class horsepower. A 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel will follow in 2016. A six-speed automatic transmission will be optional on the base 2WD models and standard on all others; the base manual transmission will also be a six-speed. Another segment-first feature will be available automatic four-wheel drive.

Although new to North America, the new pickups come with experience – they are based on a global Chevrolet truck that has been on sale in markets like Brazil (as the Chevrolet S10) and Thailand since 2011. Of course they have been extensively revised to suit our tastes and environments. The box sides are higher, and the styling is different for the GMC version.

A senior GM official said at the Canyon unveiling in January that GMC customers cite exterior styling as the #1 “reason to buy” the brand’s trucks. Tony Johnson, marketing manager for Colorado, said the Colorado projects a sportier image intended to target the Toyota Tacoma, while the Canyon is more about refinement.

Starting this fall, the trucks will be built in an expansion of the Wentzville, Mo. plant that currently builds the Express and Savana full-size vans.