Who Killed the Compact Pickup Truck?

Ever since my first viewing of Back to the Future, I have wanted a Toyota pickup. The movie comes to a close with Marty McFly openinig up the garage to find a gleaming black Toyota truck.

From then on as a child, when I would draw, I would doodle pickup trucks that all resembled a mid-80’s Toyota Truck. A truck that has disappeared from the truck landscape.

Side Note: There are a lot of continuity issues across all 3 Back to the Future episodes. See a few minor differences between the truck and garage in I, II and III here.

Since 2001, I owned this 1998 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 extended cab. I LOVED this truck. It was the perfect size. It was built like a tank and would go anywhere. It got decent gas mileage for a truck (just under 20 mpg). It had over 208,000 miles when I recently sold it.  Yet I can’t replace it with a new truck of comparable size. Tacoma pickups are now classified as a mid-size pickup.

I had planned to keep this truck for at least 350,000 miles. I sold it when I found a small hole in the frame shown above. (Here’s an example of significantly worse Tacoma Frame Rot). Toyota made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They offered to repurchase my truck for $2,500 less than I paid for it 10 years ago.

Where has the compact truck gone?

Every pickup in America has been on steroids for the past decade and what used to be a compact is now mid-size. What used to be mid-size is now full-size. What used to be full-size is now almost qualified to pull a fifty-three foot trailer. The trucks these days keep getting bigger and bigger. As each truck graduates to the next larger class, the compact truck has been left behind.

To my knowledge, the smallest truck available in the US is the Ford Ranger, which is a good truck, but even it has grown in size the past few years. And Ford recently announced they will be stopping production on the final small truck.

Hello? McFly!

In this day and age of environmental concern and expensive gas, why have all of the major manufacturers chosen to eliminate the most fuel efficient truck models from their lineups? All manufacturers should be building more compact trucks and touting their size and fuel efficiency until marketing budgets are exhausted.

Our benevolent government is behind the death of the compact pickup. Blame them for this vehicular homocide using the weapon of unintended consequence.

From the (very) little I understand about CAFE standards, it appears that the framework of this edict is that the smaller the footprint of the vehicle, the higher the bar for fuel economy. See this site (dead link) for more gibberish about CAFE mandates.

Rather than engineer their vehicles to meet these progressively more impossible targets, the manufacturer’s killed the small truck. From a business perspective, this makes sense. Compact trucks are a relatively small market and if it required an unknown capital investment to continue to sell them, the shortest distance between two points is to shut down production on small trucks or expand their size until a larger classification with lower fuel goals is reached. Looks like the manufacturers chose the latter.

Government is the problem.

As with anything our government touches, the road to unintended consequences is paved with good intentions. Good fuel economy is a laudable goal. When the end result of a mandate is to accomplish the exact opposite of what its authors intended, then the system is broken. I know this is not news. Reagan had it right, “Government is not the answer to the problem. Government is the problem”.

I don’t work in a job where I HAVE to have a small pickup. I don’t really NEED a truck. There are a lot of companies who REQUIRE a small pickup. Their higher fuel bills and expenses related to these bigger trucks will no doubt be passed on in the form of higher prices.

Even though I don’t have to have a compact truck, I loved my truck. I recently purchased a Honda Civic. I would have rather purchased a new truck, but there wasn’t one available in the size that I wanted. I do imagine getting a sheet of plywood for projects around the house is going to be much more tricky in the future.