The Small Truck

What this country needs is a good mini pickup truck.  I think.

Maybe it is just because the huge vehicles stand out, but haven’t pickup trucks and SUV’s just gotten larger and larger?  Honestly I don’t know how garages can contain them.  Not the garages that are built these days (but that is another rant).

I think the first mini pickup truck that I remember was a Datsun (now called Nisan).  Prior to that the standard pickup trucks were the Chevy step side or the Dodge slab side and of course, the Ford F150.  These were primarily work trucks that businesses would use.  Painters and electricians would use panel trucks (where did they go?) while plumbers, landscapers, and carpenters would use pickup trucks. 

With the introduction of the mini pickup truck suddenly you could have the versatility and utility that the “big boys” enjoyed but in a practical package and at a practical price.

These small pickup trucks still exist, but they’ve put on weight and in many ways have lost a lot of their practicality. 

Much like when Datsun introduced the 240Z (Fairlady).  When the 240Z came to the US it created a well deserved stir.  It was light in weight, a two-seater dedicated to the joys of driving with a spirited six cylinder engine and a modern suspension.  This contrasted with the English sports cars that still used technology that had not been updated since the 1940’s.  The US choices were the Corvette.  You can also count Shelby’s cobra roadster, but it was half English, too.  The 240Z was relatively cheap and very fast for its time.  It handled well and the factory offered suspension parts that turned it into a very competitive racer.  All of these qualities captured the hearts and minds of the driving enthusiast.

Then something strange happened.  The 240Z became the 260Z, then the 280Z, and finally the 300ZX.  The metamorphosis was from a light butterfly that stung like a bee to an overweight monster filled with unnecessary luxury.  Much of the same has happened to the mini pickup truck.

I think it has to do with something innate in human behavior.  We appreciate the quaint simplicity and utility and then drift right back to the coach potato yearnings.  I saw it happen to Cape Cod.  People would come to visit the place, drawn by the charm and quaintness.  They would love it so much that they would move to the place.  In no time they would be frustrated with what quaintness really means and demand malls, and traffic, and sidewalks, and all that it brings with it.

So the simple utilitarin pickup truck is now only found in want ads and used car lots at a premium price because they know you don’t have an alternative.

The time is right to resurrect the mini pickup truck and in a form that says utility and economy, not one that says “I’m almost the big truck you really want”.

It would be great to have a truck that came from the factory with the bed already sprayed with a Rhino liner.  It would be a truck with seats that could take some greasy clothes and dirt and dust from weekend chores.  It would be a small truck that would carry you, your friend, and your mountain bikes to a new trail a few miles away.  It would have a steering wheel that looked like a truck and wouldn’t care if you had gloves on or dirt on your hands.   The rear tailgate would help you get things in the back.  You could have lots of tie downs for when you carry twenty bales of landscaping straw.  It would come in RWD and AWD and maybe a diesel!

But most of all it would be a small pickup truck that would never have pretentions of being a full-sized pickup, nor a luxury SUV.  It would be what it was, an economical utility vehicle that you could use for getting that Christmas tree without making a mess of your SUV or car.

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3 Responses to The Small Truck

  1. Noel says:

    My father–when I was about 8 or 9–had an early ’50s Ford pick-up. Great little truck and I wonder where that elegance of form and function went. I drove one like it many years later at a summer job right after high school. It was a very efficient, practical machine. No frills, but it did all you could ask of it, its flathead four cylinder thumping away under the hood, hooked to a three-on-the-tree tranny. And so much fun to drive.

    I had something close a few years back, a Chevy S-10. Auto trans, no air conditioning, basic everything. Looked good physically and ran OK, but the previous owner had not treated it well and that showed up after I had it about 3 years. But it was just the kind of truck we need more of.

    Now trucks are all substitutes for cars, so they have all the bells and whistles. I know one guy with a Dodge truck who won’t put anything dirty –like a load of topsoil or bark mulch–in the back!

    The average “full-size” pick up today is a waste of natural resources and a visual blight on the highways. The reason they are built is because the auto makers are very good at building a market and making people think they need these huge (and hugely profitable) vehicles. Everytime I see one blocking traffic or being driven like it’s a BMW I wish gas cost $6 a gallon so the bloody thigs would get priced out of existence.

    I’ve gone truckless and now use a utility trailer. Not as convenient, but holds more and requires zip maintenance.

  2. mark says:

    Good points. Part of a larger problem that I see is that automakers have lost sight of their brand image, and their promise of value. They are struggling to have an offering in every conceivable segment of the market. As a result, I personally think we are building some stupid things.

    For instance – why do we need a cadillac or lincoln pickup truck? Who wants a Lincoln pickup, a jazzed up, over priced Ford F150. (I know who, I see the people driving them, that and their Infinity Q560’s with power fold in rear view windows) For that matter, why do we need Luxury SUVs? When you think of Lincoln of Caddilac, you would think of luxury sedans and limos. Things with fins, miles of leather and chrome. Fine. Take it Church, out to dinner. But do you feel good hauling a load of gravel in it? Perish the thought.

    Likewise, Porsche and BMW now have created the “performance SUV” market with the Caynene and X5. Why? To Jim’s point, there was a time when vehicles were purpose built – A van had a purpose. A pickup had a purpose. A Sedan had a purpose. A wagon had a purpose. But then, over time there is bleed over – The minivan. Now the “crossover” a half minvan half SUV. Yeah – please build more of those.

    As a result of trying to be everything to everyone, automakers are spending a ton on promotions, advertising, and continual rebranding / repositioning. I say a more effective strategy is to find something core, stick with it. If you pick the right core attribute, there is no need to wander with design.

  3. Dan says:

    My father had a Ford Courier mini pickup back in the day and we actually towed a small camper with it and generally abused it.

    Today I drive a Dodge Dakota extended cab after replacing an earlier long bed regular cab Dakota. Before that I had a long bed S-10 that would not die, and I finally sold it after 208k miles.

    The mid size truck is the sweet spot for me. The Dakota is still larger than GM’s S-10 replacement Colorado/Canyon. Mine has the V6 and the only real luxury is the air conditioning, which is standard if you live in the south. I get 21-22 on the highway, which isn’t bad given the size, and it has towed some decent loads. I had originally wanted the v8, but no regrets after 8 years with this one. I hear they are going to introduce a diesel in 2010 for the Dakotas, and if mine is tired out by that time, I’ll probably go for it.

    I don’t find issue with most truck owners, as I sometimes think I may go for a full size to address the many times my Dakota just wasn’t sufficient. Those that buy the large SUV’s and trucks and pamper them like a sedan, and generally refuse to get them dirty or use them in a manner that they are designed for, do get my goat. It is the however the result of our economy that enables this waste.

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