Plea to Automakers: Bring Us Your Small Trucks

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In a time when work-oriented pickup trucks are commanding luxury car prices, there’s an increasingly large subset of buyers who really just need a smaller, easy-to-live-with truck for odd jobs and who are becoming more disillusioned with today’s full-size offerings that, when properly equipped, can fly north of $40,000, $50,000, and even $60,000.

It’s not to say that buyers aren’t getting their money’s worth — today’s trucks are more capable, larger, more fuel efficient, and more feature-loaded than ever before, and for buyers who spend a lot of time in their trucks, those are all positives. But at what point does a truck become less of a workhorse and more of a luxury SUV with an open bed? Take auto journalist Ezra Dyer’s recent piece in The New York Times, for which he drove a $64,500 GMC (NYSE:GM) Sierra 2500 HD Denali. Yes, a nearly $70,000 pickup that Dyer promptly loaded up with mulch from an eager skid-steer (you wouldn’t do that with your Cadillac, would you?).

“I grew up with trucks that came from the factory with dents and rust, trucks that had vinyl seats and cardboard roofliners,” Dyer writes. “Those were trucks that you didn’t feel bad about putting to work. … the chief economist at Edmunds.com, Lacey Plache, ran the numbers on car and truck prices over the last decade and came to the surprising conclusion that, adjusted for inflation, overall vehicle prices actually dropped by 8 percent. Full-size trucks, though, took the opposite path, soaring 37 percent in raw dollar figures, or 9 percent when inflation-adjusted.”

Quality has gone up, as well as capabilities, and so on and so forth. But let’s look at the state of entry-level trucks: you have the choice of the Toyota (NYSE:TM) Tacoma, an affordable hauler that performs admirably but is quite dated (to say the least), and the Nissan (NSANY.PK) Frontier, which makes the “Taco” look like a spring chicken. There’s also the Honda (NYSE:HMC) Ridgeline, but that hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of success as the other two.

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