Are 'Lifestyle' Pickups The Next Big Thing In Trucks? – Forbes


The Jeep Gladiator is expected to blow the lid off the growing “lifestyle” pickup truck segment when it debuts next year.(AP)

Though the top-selling rides on the road continue to be brawny full-size pickup trucks, their sheer size and cost can be prohibitive for many buyers who simply require added utility in an affordable and maneuverable package. That’s where the suddenly swelling midsize truck segment – now being referred to in the industry as “lifestyle” pickups – is coming into play.

The leader in this segment – and by a considerable margin – remains the longstanding Toyota Tacoma, with 204,443 units delivered over the first 10 months of 2018. That represents a 24.9% increase over the same period in 2017. In second place is the recently reintroduced Chevrolet Colorado with 104,838 units sold, which represents a 26.3% increase. Even the dated Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t seen a redesign since the 2005 model year, boasted a 5.4% boost in sales over the first 11 months of the year.

There’s also the Colorado’s equivalent at GMC, the Canyon, and the Honda Ridgeline, which is the only midsize hauler to suffer a sales drop so far this year.

On the horizon is a revived Ford Ranger for 2019, with the long awaited Jeep Gladiator, based on the Jeep Wrangler sport-utility vehicle, expected to ignite the segment when it comes for the 2020 model year.

Hyundai is working on a new small pickup of it’s own, which as of this writing is called the Santa Cruz. To be based on the next-generation Tuscon crossover sport-utility vehicle, Hyundai’s pickup could debut for 2021. It’s expected to be followed by a companion model at Kia. And Volkswagen has been showing a small pickup called the Tanoak, which could eventually find its way to the U.S.

That’s certainly a lot of action in an automotive segment that until recently was all but left for dead. The Ranger, Colorado and Canyon were dropped from their respective lineups earlier in the decade because of flagging sales, with the Ridgeline taking the 2015 and 2016 model years off for a lack of takers.

The Ford Ranger returns to the U.S. market for 2019 after several years’ absence. (AP)

In a reversal of fortune spurred by affordable gas prices and growing consumer interest in trucks, midsize pickup sales jumped 18 percent through the first 10 months of 2018, and have grown the last four years in a row. And the segment’s robust expansion isn’t expected to slow down soon.

“We’re about to enter a golden era for lifestyle trucks,” says Chase Disher, chief analyst at the website Autolist.com. “Consumers have watched unrefined SUVs from the past evolve into very desirable crossovers today, and they expect the same evolution in lifestyle trucks.”

The Canyon, Colorado, Frontier and Tacoma models are available in either an extended cab two-door configuration with a smallish back seat and access via clamshell-opening access panels, or with four full-size doors and a standard-size rear bench. There’s either a five or six-foot cargo bed, depending on the cab style. The above offer a choice of a four-cylinder or V6 engine, with a manual transmission available in select versions. The Honda Ridgeline and Jeep Gladiator, however, only come in a four-door configuration, strictly with V6 power.

Most are based on rear-drive ladder-on-frame underpinnings and come in base rear-drive versions with an optional four-wheel-drive system that includes low-range gearing for off-roading. The sole exception thus far is the Honda Ridgeline, which is based on a passenger car’s front-drive unibody architecture, with a more pavement-friendly all-wheel drive system available.

Much of the segment’s growth can be attributed to the trucks’ popularity as all-activity vehicles; this is as compared to full-size models, which are primarily built to accomplish heavy-duty tasks. Having what amounts to a small pickup bed grafted onto the back of a midsize SUV just behind the rear seats is a boon to those who want to transport sports equipment, camping gear, and other items that would soil the interior of a closed vehicle. To that end, the new Jeep Gladiator was designed specifically to accommodate a pair of dirt bikes or an all-terrain vehicle in its tidy cargo bed.

Most models in this segment offer specially equipped four-wheel-drive editions that are especially popular among off-road enthusiasts. These feature added items like a lifted suspension, skid plates, off-road-rated tires and specific gearing systems to maximize their trail-blazing abilities.

According to Edmunds.com, the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) off-road versions of the Toyota Tacoma account for more than half of all its sales. By comparison, the most off-road capable model in the full-size Ram 1500 line, the Rebel, represents only four percent of the vehicle’s sales.

Leading the Tacoma’s line of dirt drivers for 2019 is the new TRD Pro; it can be fitted with an imposing-looking tall stack air intake that’s designed to afford cleaner airflow to the engine in the dustiest desert environments.

The Toyota TRD Pro can be fitted with a tall stack air intake to afford cleaner airflow in the dustiest off-road environments. (AP)

For its part, the Chevrolet Colorado’s Z71 off-road package is finding its way into 30 percent of that model’s sales, Edmunds says, while the hotter ZR2 trim amounts to around 12 percent of its volume. Chevy is expanding the Colorado line early next year with a new off-road high-performance ZR2 Bison model. Its bolder exterior styling is capped with sturdy steel bumpers, it packs a 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine, and a full suite of off-road gear.

As with the Wrangler, the new Gladiator’s most potent offering will be the top Rubicon version, which is named after one of the most challenging off-road trails in the nation. Appropriately, the Rubicon features Jeep’s Rock-Trac 4×4 system with a “4LO” ratio of 4:1 and locking differentials, along with heavy-gauge tubular steel rock rails to help prevent body damage out on the trails, and segment-exclusive rock rails for the bed corners.

Though Ford has created a Raptor off-road-racer version of its new Ranger pickup in other markets, it’s not planned – at least not so far – as the smaller counterpart to the F-150 Raptor. U.S. Buyers will have to make due in the meantime with the optional FX4 off-road equipment package.

Apparently, however, there is a limit to the lifestyle pickup segment’s burgeoning popularity. While a survey conducted by Autolist.com found that 62 percent of consumers queried will “definitely’ or “probably” consider buying a compact or midsize truck for their next vehicle, don’t expect buyers in the fiercely loyal full-size pickup market to downsize their rides any time soon. Only 19 percent of these folks said they’d consider a compact/midsize truck for their next purchase.

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