The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Car-based Pickups: The Next Big Thing?


Car-based Pickups: The Next Big Thing?
Editorial by Ming

The idea of the utility of a bed in the back of a car is nothing new. The Model T had the option of a pickup bed. Cars of the past like the El Camino still are instantly recognizable names that conjure up the image of a car-based pickup. When and where the division between "pickup" and "car" began I'll leave up to the history buffs. But it clearly happened. Go to many sites on the Web and Chevy trucks are listed separately from cars, often with truck-like SUVs and vans oddly being listed as "cars". Regardless of how and when the division happened, following the trends of today suggest to me that we are headed back to a convergence point, where the differences between pickups and cars are blurred, just as they have been recently with truck-based and car-based SUVs.

Some of the trends are not so obvious. Ford and GM took only a small step away from their SUVs to offer vehicles like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. Other offerings are so niche that they haven't affected the market as a whole. Subaru has done the car/pickup thing before with the Brat, and is doing it again with the Baja. And a few vehicles like the GMC Envoy XUV are neither pickup, SUV, nor car, but offer some of the amenities of all 3. When a Toyota Echo-based Scion xB appeared on the cover of a sport truck magazine, the definition of "truck" seemed to mean little anymore.

I recently suggested here that the reason Toyota's next Tacoma looks larger, beefier, and sports bigger, badder engines is not only to keep up with the industry move from "mini" trucks to mid-sizers, but that Toyota and Honda both are planning their move towards car-based pickups. With platforms like those used on the Highlander and Pilot ready for conversion, and a "car guy" press willing to praise the merits of any Honda and Toyota vehicles with a "car like ride" while overlooking such "truck guy" concerns as towing and payload capacity, the road has been cleared for them. We already know that Honda has such a vehicle in the works. For some, all it takes is a Honda emblem on a vehicle to instantly validate it, and thus the type of vehicle itself.

Some might scoff at this - what I consider - upcoming segment and point to the slow sales of the Subaru Baja. They shouldn't. Subaru is already a niche player, and is marketing a niche product within its niche brand. Scoffers would be wise to look at the cars they dismissed from Honda and Toyota in the past. They might ask themselves if they were among those who laughed at the idea of a car-based SUV.

As I see it, GM North America needs to prepare itself for such a market move. If Holden's innovative vehicle designs like the UTE/Crewman can be carried over onto the Zeta platform, then Detroit should be working overtime to make sure that they have a version ready for the US market. GM has been beaten to segments before, and there is no reason to let this one go. In addition - with the added strength of RWD, a variant of the UTE would have an advantage over a FWD-based pickup from Honda.

Too many drivers of pickups rarely use their beds for anything more than an occasional trip to Home Depot. That need can be easily served by a car-based vehicle like the Holden UTE, Subaru Baja, or similar vehicle. Vehicles that make much better use of increasingly expensive gasoline. As the price of gasoline remains high, and technological improvements and additions like all-wheel-drive allow companies like Honda to effectively disguise the origin of their "truck" , these drivers become increasingly likely to trade in their old bouncy guzzlers for a vehicle with the same utility - for them.

The Colorado/Canyon are fine vehicles with great fuel economy, but they are trucks in the old-style sense of it, with anything but a "car like ride" (even if they are better than the average pickup), and are likely to continue to be seen as such. GM should not rely on this pair of vehicles to fend off upcoming cars with utility/cargo beds. They should be developing their own for multiple GM brands. Between a UTE-like vehicle offering a (muscle) car like ride, moderate cargo hauling ability, an HHR variant with an open cargo area, and the small GM pickups offered in 4-door form - that have refused to go the way of the hulking, guzzling HEMI-powered "mid-sizer" from Dodge, GM may well be able to keep their bases covered -- and prevent another situation where they wait on the sidelines to see how the competition does, only to join in with too little, too late.

The idea of the car-based pickup might be old, but it is valid one in this age of crossovers. Perhaps I'm simply biased because I sure wouldn't mind owning one with the right features, but I hope that GM takes this potentially up-and-coming segment seriously.


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