Trucks have done a weird thing in the United States and many other countries. The full-sized pickup trucks (1/2 ton and up) grew immensely, dwarfing the trucks of the ’90s and earlier. Then the compact trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger grew to be almost as big as the full-sized trucks used to be. The result? The compact truck segment has basically been abandoned.
People on social media and in the automotive blogging world have noticed, and have been asking manufacturers to make small trucks again. Ford is answering that call (and soon others will too) with a new compact pickup truck, the Maverick. This signals not only the return of smaller trucks, but an opportunity for electric trucks to eventually thrive in this segment.
The Advantages of Smaller Pickup Trucks
It’s a common stereotype that Americans want everything to be bigger, no matter the downsides. For many buyers, this is the truth, but for the rest, it’s more of a caricature. There are many people driving around in older compact trucks who refuse to give them up because they like what they’re driving and nobody sells anything like that (and hasn’t for quite a while now).
Even more comically, people are buying small cars and using conversion kits to put a small bed on them. Models like these (often called “utes”) are common in Australia, but you can’t get one in the States without it being a custom job. Even in the EV world, at least one person has done this to a Model 3:
Why do people like these smaller trucks?
First off, they’re easier to maneuver in suburban and urban places. Not only is visibility better, but you can fit the thing in more tight spaces, pop in and out of traffic, and otherwise navigate places that aren’t wide open. Even in the sprawling spaces of Suburbia, one can easily pull a compact pickup truck into a garage or beside the house.
Second, they’re more efficient when not being used as a truck. Many people commute in a little pickup truck and use the bed on weekends. They drive to the office or other 9–5 job and don’t use up as much gas doing it. With a little 4-cylinder, 5-cylinder, or V6 engine, the trucks were light enough to still get good performance without paying the fuel man for unneeded V8 power.
On the weekend, trips to Home Depot or out in the woods are easier. For the odd home improvement project, there’s plenty of room for boards, buckets of paint, and many other things. For camping, there’s a ton of room for gear for the 2–5 people who fit in the front (depending on whether it’s a standard, extended, or crew cab). You can even fit mountain bikes, an ATV, and other adventure gear back there in many cases.
If you get one with four doors, it can also take care of family duty. With all of the room of a sedan, plus with a short bed on the back, you end up with a vehicle that can do almost anything.
Sure, the mid-sized and full-sized trucks can do all of that and more, but you can’t maneuver them as easily in crowded places and they use more fuel than a compact truck would.
One other benefit that gets overlooked is that these smaller trucks will generally have greater visibility and lower hoods. These both are better for pedestrian and cyclist safety in cities. It’s easier to avoid hitting a pedestrian or cyclist, but if a collision does occur, the injuries should be less catastrophic in most cases.
Can The Maverick Be Cleaner Than The Ranger or F-150?
We haven’t gotten much detail from Ford yet on what the truck’s specifications will be, but there’s plenty of room for educated guesses here.
Yes, the old compact trucks didn’t get amazing gas mileage, but that was 20 years ago. Engine technology has come a long way, with many sedans (that also didn’t get great mileage back then) getting around 40 MPG on the highway, and even that much in the city if it’s a hybrid. A compact pickup, even without any kind of electrification, should get far better gas mileage now than the larger and heavier mid-sized and full-sized trucks.
We do know that Ford will be offering this as a hybrid, but we don’t know whether it will be a plugin. Even if it’s just a gas-powered hybrid, it’s likely that it will get around 30–40 MPG combined, and maybe better if Ford has any tricks up its sleeves.
Is this amazing? Not in today’s EV world. However, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. Every full-sized truck that one of these Maverick’s replaces is an environmental win, so we shouldn’t gripe too much about it. The industry will eventually make these full electric as battery prices fall, and they’ll sell like hotcakes at the right price in the future.
The Rest Of The Industry Is Heading Toward Offering Smaller Trucks
Others are moving into the space, too. Cox Automotive has been studying the demand for this segment for a while, and it’s tracking new models that are trying to enter this space. There are people who simply won’t consider a compact truck at all for various reasons, but among those who would consider one, fuel efficiency and price are key considerations.
Price considerations for this segment are likely to keep the better forms of electrification away for now, because people won’t get a good purchase price if it’s a decent plugin-hybrid or a full EV. To get these priced to where people will buy them, they’ll be able to offer non-plugin options at best. However, as battery prices continue to fall, expect them to naturally enter this space later.
For now, there are two confirmed compact, efficient trucks entering the market. There’s the Ford Maverick and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. We don’t have specifics on the Ford yet, but we know that the Hyundai will only be offered as a turbo-4, which should still get okay mileage for now. Once again, price is a big issue here. Volkswagen also has a compact truck concept, called the Tarok, while Dodge could import the compact RAM 700 truck.
With Tesla’s better access to batteries, it would make a lot of sense for the cleantech company to offer an electric pickup truck that can compete with these gas burners. Even if all it did was offer a ute like the Truckla, with the front of a Model 3 or Model Y, plus a bed in the rear, Tesla would be able to enter the higher end of this re-emerging segment. It’s important that Tesla do this, because it would help push that segment of the industry to electrify.