Up until it was ousted by the Toyota Tacoma in 2005, the Ford Ranger led the compact pickup truck segment for 18 years. At its peak in 1999, the Ranger sold 348,358 units. After 2006, however, sales fell below 100,000 units per year and never recovered since. Part of the reason for the Ranger's decline is Ford's decision to put more resources and attention into the larger F-150, which last month saw nearly seven times the sales volume of the Ranger. Receiving few revisions since its introduction, the Ranger became dated. Unlike other compact trucks on the market, the Ranger never adopted the crew cab body style, or received any major engine upgrades throughout its life. Although a new Ranger model is planned for other markets, built in Thailand and South Africa, the U.S. won't get that vehicle due to costly import tariffs and Ford's belief that the market for small pickups in the U.S. is becoming ever slimmer.

"The segment has shrunk dramatically," said Doug Scott, Ford's truck marketing manager, to The Detroit News. "In 2000, the compact pickup segment was about 1 million units, and this year that segment will be lucky to be 250,000 or 300,000 units."

Despite what the numbers say, there are many who disagree with Ford's decision to kill the Ranger in the U.S. Scott continues: "A lot of our customers are not happy, obviously, that it is going away, and I imagine we will get more of that over the next month after Ranger goes out of production."

Those customers will be forced to look to the competition, which includes General Motors' 2013 Colorado and Chrysler Group's planned unibody replacement for the outgoing Dakota. Unlike Ford's plan to build and sell the Ranger overseas, GM will continue to build the Colorado in the U.S. primarily for North America.

After 29 years of service, the Ranger will be put out to pasture by December 19. Let's take a look back at our previous coverage of the Ranger, along with some of the things that made it the no-frills pickup of choice for some minimalist truck buyers.

In our First Test of the previous-generation 1998 Ford Ranger, we said the small pickup excelled in every evaluation category except high-speed cornering, which you wouldn't expect a truck to perform well in anyway. With the same ingredients that made its predecessors so successful, the then-new Ranger looked poised to recapture the market once again.

In our First Drive review of the current-generation Ranger, first introduced in 2001, we said the mild improvements would give it an even bigger edge on the competition. While that was true for the time, the aging platform would prove to be a less competitive option in the ten years that followed.

Not everyone saw the Ranger as a basic means of transportation, as Ford's SVT division created the Ranger SVT V-8 in 1996. With 240 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from its Mustang Cobra-sourced 5.0-liter V-8, the Ranger prototype was "a hoot to drive," according to our review. In 2004, SVT went a step further by stuffing a 380-hp 5.4-liter V-8 into the Ranger, calling the one-off effort the "Lightning Bolt." Though neither high-performance version ever spawned a production model, we got to briefly sample the tire-burning straight line speed of two V-8-powered Rangers.

Last year, we got our first look at the not-for-U.S. 2012 Ford Ranger, where we saw what truck shoppers in the U.S. would be missing out on. With new powertrains, including a flex-fuel-capable 164-hp 2.5-liter I-4 and a 3.2-liter diesel I-5 producing 197 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque, the global Ranger features significant technical improvements compared to its counterpart in the U.S. Styling for the truck is contemporary, departing from the traditional look of past U.S.-market Rangers. Overall, the 2012 Ranger looks promising, and would be a welcome addition to the compact truck segment in the U.S. If only that were in the cards.

Source: The Detroit News, Ford