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2024 Toyota Tacoma Trailhunter
Toyota

DETROIT — Size matters. Just ask America’s largest automakers.

Ford, General Motors and Toyota are among those increasingly looking to capitalize on the growing midsize pickup truck segment: vehicles big enough to command high price tags but small enough to protect profit margins.

The small pickups have evolved from entry-level work trucks into pricey, capable and highly profitable models that can cost more than $60,000 — in line with luxury vehicles from BMW, Cadillac and others.

“It’s just not aimed at people on a budget, because I think that’s what the segment was for a long time,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at auto research firm Edmunds. “The trucks are getting nicer with more amenities, more features and more emphasis on design.”

Midsize pickup trucks are following the lead of their larger, full-size counterparts such as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Toyota Tundra. They’ve become more capable, larger and pricier, with an influx of new luxury and off-road variants, and special features.

Sales of midsize vehicles have topped 600,000 vehicles since 2019, as consumer interest has moved away from traditional sedans to utility vehicles such as crossovers, SUVs and, of course, pickup trucks.

Over the past decade, traditional midsize pickup truck sales have more than doubled to represent 4.4% of U.S. vehicle sales last year — up from a minuscule 1.6% in 2013, and the highest level since 2005, according to Edmunds.

S&P Global Mobility expects sales of midsize pickups to continue to grow in the coming years but top out as a percentage of U.S. market share at 4.6% in 2026.

The average price paid for one of the vehicles is likewise rising: During the past decade, the average price increased 53% from about $28,100 to more than $42,000, Edmunds reports. That price growth is 3 percentage points stronger than the overall industry.

Competition increasing

The midsize pickup segment has grown from three vehicles in production a decade ago to now seven gas-powered pickups from the likes of Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Jeep, Nissan and Toyota. Half the brands have announced redesigned vehicles this year, which is expected to boost interest and competition in the segment.

Toyota this week revealed its fourth-generation Tacoma pickup, a week after Ford Motor unveiled its redesigned Ranger for the U.S. General Motors also has redesigned versions of its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups arriving in dealerships.

2023 GMC Canyon AT4X Edition 1
GM

“It’s really hotter than it’s ever been in terms of midsize truck,” Patrick Finnegan, senior manager of GMC trucks and full-size SUVs, told CNBC. “There’s a lot more effort, energy and enthusiasm [and] momentum building in this segment than we’ve ever seen.”

While the Detroit automakers dominate large pickup truck sales, Toyota Motor is the clear leader in midsize pickup truck sales with its Tacoma.

Toyota has commanded a roughly 40% share of the American midsize pickup truck segment since 2019, when Ford and Jeep reentered the market, Edmunds reports. That’s down from a more than 60% market share a decade ago — despite Tacoma sales that surged roughly 150% since then — as rival automakers have released new trucks.

It’s a position Toyota has no plans of relinquishing: “[Tacoma] is the No. 1 selling vehicle in the segment … our intention is for that to remain,” said Joseph Moses, Toyota North America general manager of trucks and SUVs.

Trailing Toyota is GM. Edmunds reports the Detroit automaker’s share of the U.S. midsize pickup segment last year was about 19%, followed by Stellantis‘ Jeep Gladiator at 12.8% and the Nissan Frontier at 12.5%. Ford’s Ranger was at 9.4%, down from roughly 15% market share the previous year.

“I don’t see any reason or way Toyota’s dominance in this segment doesn’t hold,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at S&P Global. “It has gone down since 2017 … but they’re still well over 200,000 units [annually]. No one else is even close.”

Varying strategies

Automakers’ sales volumes speak to their diverging strategies in the midsize pickup truck segment.

Toyota promotes what it calls “a Tacoma for everyone,” offering several variations of its standard model, including a two-door version of the Tacoma, two different bed lengths, and a new high-end, off-road “Trailhunter” model. It’s also offering the Tacoma with a manual transmission — a rarity in today’s automotive industry.

Meanwhile, its competitors have limited the number of cab and pickup box configurations they offer, shifting to exclusively four-door midsize pickups with one bed option to reduce complexity.

Much of the midsize optionality tends to be a profit play. Ford CEO Jim Farley last month told investors that special variants — such as a new performance Raptor model in Ford’s Ranger lineup — share roughly 80% of their parts with regular models but have 30% higher contribution margins.

The Raptor will start at $56,960. That’s nearly $23,000 more than the entry-level Ranger model.

2024 Ford Ranger Raptor
Ford

“The Raptor’s going to be at the top end of our Ranger offering,” said Gretchen Sauer, Ford’s marketing manager of the pickup. “It’s going to extend up our overall transaction price for Ranger.”

GM counts Chevrolet as its mainstream brand for the midsize pickup segment, while GMC specializes on higher-end models.

GMC’s Finnegan said the brand expects to increase new customers with its redesigned Canyon. Much of that draw is expected at the high end of the market with GMC’s off-road AT4 and AT4X models, which can top both top $60,000.

“It’s a priority for us in terms of getting into that segment and growing our share,” Finnegan said. “I think it’s probably safe to say that with all the new entries in the segment, we think that the segment will grow.”

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