Is there a place in the Toyota line-up for a compact pickup? That’s a question the Japanese automaker is asking itself as it watches sales surge for the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz.
Toyota officials are usually circumspect when it comes to future product plans, but they were surprisingly open when discussing the potential for a small truck during an event dubbed HQ Confidential last week. There seems little doubt Maverick and Santa Cruz have helped revitalize a long-dormant segment of the market, Toyota execs acknowledged. The question is whether it will keep growing and, if so, what sort of pickup the Japanese giant should focus on.
“There is space,” Jack Hollis, the senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News. “The question is how to fill it.”
Two different approaches
For their part, Ford and Hyundai took very different approaches to bringing back compact pickups. The Maverick follows the classic pickup formula when it comes to design, while Santa Cruz is more of an urban alternative, small enough to maneuver around the city during the week, yet versatile enough to take on adventures over the weekend.
Both offer potential solutions that could work for Toyota. If anything, the Hyundai pickup bears a more than subtle similarity to the Toyota A-BAT concept of 2008. But that show car also has something in common with Ford’s new truck. The Detroit model offers two powertrain options, including the entry-level hybrid that has proved particularly popular with buyers now that gasoline prices have set new records.
What’s clear is that there’s a market for compact pickups, Ford and Hyundai selling a combined 50,000 during the first five months of 2022, according to industry data. So far, Ford has dominated the market, but the Santa Cruz is gaining ground, setting a sales record in May, according to industry data.
(Re-)Birth of a new market segment
There was a time, back in the 1970s and 1980s, when pickup buyers could choose from an assortment of different sizes, from compact to heavy duty. But as the new millennium approached, demand for smaller trucks dwindled and manufacturers generally shifted focus to full-size offerings. At one point, there were only a pair of midsize models available: the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Frontier.
Then General Motors revived two of its old nameplates: the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and demand surged. Today, midsize buyers have plenty of options to choose from, such as the Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator and Ford Ranger
There remained plenty of skeptics when Ford and Hyundai decided to test the market for even smaller products, but the budding success of the Maverick and Santa Cruz has the industry buzzing. Speaking on background only, officials with several carmakers have told TheDetroitBureau.com they’re considering potential options. Toyota is the first to openly discuss its possibilities.
Watching and waiting
Toyota doesn’t necessarily have to come up with a compact truck, Cooper Erickson, Toyota’s North American product planning and strategy chief, told MotorTrend at the HQ Confidential event, but it also doesn’t want to miss a solid opportunity. Like Hollis, however, he said Toyota would need to find the best approach. It could go with a more classic body-on-frame style, akin to the Ford Maverick, or follow the unibody path taken by Hyundai’s Santa Cruz.
For now, said Erickson, Toyota is watching and waiting to see how buyers react to those two offerings. The “more that Ford sells, frankly, the more that Hyundai sells,” he said, “the more we’ll be able to get good research on who these customers are, why they want this vehicle, and we’ll see if that’s the space that we want to enter into.”