When we started hearing about big new things coming to the F-150 for 2011, namely that it was getting a new 3.7-liter V-6, and we hadn't heard anything new about the Ranger, it was starting to look like the end of the road for the Ranger. What was most frustrating about that was that we knew there was a global-market Ranger out there, one getting stellar reviews -- and we weren't going to get it in the USA. Ever since Ford ended production of our Ranger, we have been wondering if Ford would reconsider.
And even though we still don't know if a smaller Ford pickup is coming, Doug Scott, Ford's truck program marketing manager, talked with Automotive.com about the challenges the automaker must overcome if we will ever see a compact Ford truck in the U.S.
One of the first things Scott suggested was that a successful U.S.-market Ford truck below the market-leading F-150 would have to be truly compact, unlike the shelved F-100 program we reported on years ago. As for size, think of the original Ford Ranger and Nissan Hardbody truck from the 1980s. The price and fuel economy would have to be more different from what is currently the case for compacts like the Toyota Tacoma and full-size trucks.
There are two big shortcomings in the compact/midsize truck size category. The first is that fuel economy is not all that different from the mileage you can get in a full-size pickup. For example, a manual-transmission four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma is EPA-rated at 21/25 mpg city/highway, and the automatic-transmission four-cylinder Tacoma is 19/24 mpg. For comparison, the 2013 Ford F-150 with a 3.7-liter V-6 (and six-speed automatic) gets 17/23 mpg while the 2013 Ram 1500 goes as high as 17/25 mpg before considering the HFE model.
The second problem is price. The Tacoma is available under $20,000 in the base-trim regular-cab model with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic while the Nissan Frontier can be had under the same price ceiling with a five-speed manual transmission. You can get an F-150 for about $24,000, a Tundra for about $25,000, and a Ram 1500 for about $23,000. That's not much more money, yet it offers more capability. It's possible that the truck market could parallel the car market: as cars like the Honda Accord and Civic, and the Toyota Camry and Corolla got larger, that left a hole in the market, one that was filled with the Fit and Yaris. Full-size and compact/midsize trucks have gotten bigger -- big enough that they aren't called compact trucks anymore -- so maybe it's time for there to be real compact trucks again, smaller than the current Tacoma and Frontier.
Will Ford ever prepare a compact truck like the new Ranger for the U.S.? Possibly, but that truck is too close in size to the F-150, and its volume engines are diesels. Consider local crash regulations, and Scott claims Ford would have to engineer a "whole new vehicle." Ford simply doesn't have enough engineers to start such a project at the moment, Scott told Automotive.com, but in a few years, who knows. Where we especially agree is that there's potential for a small, cheap, and efficient truck in the U.S. market.