Will Consumers Buy Compact, Unibody Scion Pickups?

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Toyota has been kicking around the concept of building a compact unibody pickup for it’s Scion brand. While Toyota’s motivations aren’t completely clear, they probably go a little something like this:

  1. Because the Tacoma has grown from compact to midsize, there might be room in the marketplace for a truly compact pickup truck.
  2. Truck owners seem to be fiercely loyal to a particular brand, and this loyalty is often fostered at a young age. Building a cheap compact Toyota truck gives us a chance to grow a lifetime customer.
  3. A compact pickup would help Toyota meet our federal fleet fuel economy rating.
  4. Compact little unibody pickups have some appeal worldwide.
  5. Toyota is really, really good at building small vehicles.

So there you have it – Toyota’s case for building a compact pickup for the Scion brand. Now let’s break it down a little further.

#1 – Is there room for a truly compact truck? To hear some consumers talk, a $15-$20k compact pickup – even if it were severely limited in capability (like a 4′ pickup bed and a 1,000 lbs payload limit) – would be a strong seller. However, on that basis alone we disagree. Why would a consumer chose a brand-new truck with limited capability when a “real truck” with low mileage is available for roughly the same cost? The answer: The only way a compact pickup makes sense is if it can get great fuel economy. Hence, Toyota is discussing making their Scion pickup a hybrid. Smart – very smart.

Toyota Scion hybrid compact=#2 Truck owners are loyal. True. People buy what they already like, so if you can get them in your vehicle at a formative age, you’ve got a shot at building a lifetime customer. Toyota created Scion six years ago because they understood this fact. Scion was supposed to appeal to teens and college kids, and when those young buyers started to grow up, they would move into either Toyota or Lexus. If Toyota built a Scion compact pickup like the one above, they might be growing future Tacoma and Tundra customers.

Unfortunately, Scion hasn’t been much of a success at pulling in youngsters…so it might not be the best platform to launch a compact pickup from.

#3 – A compact pickup helps Toyota’s fleet fuel economy rating. Most likely this is true, but the federal government still hasn’t announced specifics, so we’ll have to wait and see.

#4 – Compact unibody pickups have worldwide appeal. Kind of. It’s always difficult to compare one market to another and draw a conclusion. Tata’s Xenon XT, for example, is one of Tata’s strongest sellers worldwide. For about $16k USD, you can buy a 2wd crew cab pickup with a 2.2L diesel. The diesel has 140hp (low), but 235 lb-ft of torque, so it’s probably peppy…and the fuel economy (22-25 mpg) is solid. Add in A/C, power windows, power steering and brakes, a basic warranty, and a 2,000 lbs payload limit, and it sounds great. However, is this type of truck a strong seller because of it’s low price, or because of it’s combination of fuel efficiency and truck capability?

Tata's Xenon XT

Tata's Xenon XT is a popular pickup worldwide, but it's hard to compare the North American auto market to the rest of the world.

Much like the North American auto market is not a blueprint for the rest of the world, what works in the rest of the world might not work at all in the U.S. or Canada…so we’re not sure this is a reason to do anything.

#5 – Toyota is really, really good at building small vehicles. True…but they don’t need to say that out loud. Here’s what one Toyota exec said at the recent Detroit Auto Show (source PickupTrucks.com):

�Toyota has such a strong heritage of doing a very good job with youth and with trucks, when you look at (the Toyota) Tacoma � I�m not trying to be too cocky, but we pretty much have owned that segment for a long time.

Besides, the critical question here isn’t if Toyota can make a great vehicle…the question is will consumers embrace a pickup that doesn’t use the traditional body-on-frame design? The answer: Probably. Truck owners have always made noise when innovations came along – automatic locking hubs, electric transfer cases, and independent front suspensions were greeted quite coldly when they debuted – but they usually embrace the innovations once they’ve been proven.

So there you have it – a quick break-down of the thinking behind building a compact unibody pickup. What do you thinkis it a good idea, or a concept doomed to fail?

Filed Under: Auto News


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  1. TXTee says:

    I wouldn’t mind a small compact truck just to haul occassional dirty loads, pets, etc. However, if it’s a Scion, I’d probably not be interested at all. The brand has never had an appeal with me even in my early 20s. Toyota would do better to add it to the existing Toyota line if it’s even needed. I just doubt there’s a large market although it is a great idea. Maybe those same Corolla owners would like the versatility.

  2. Mickey says:

    I swear that top pic of the compact truck looks to me like a Honda Ridgeline. The bottom pic looks like a Mitsubishi. I guess I will stay in the regular truck area. I do like the Tacoma’s looks.

  3. Jason says:

    TXTee – I hear ya. I’m not a fan of the idea either, but it seems like the winds are blowing in this direction. If gas is $4-$5 a gallon, it might be a smart product to have.

    Mickey – They do look like that, don’t they. Weird.

  4. TXTee says:

    I keep telling folks to get motorcycles and side cars if you have children. 🙂 I honestly think if more focus went into mass transit, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about gas prices and traffic. But that’s another topic.

  5. Michael says:

    I saw a new Toyota Hilux on the freeway here in California the other day. It looked like my wife’s 2009 Tacoma but a little smaller. I did a double take when I saw the Hilux badge, usually the Hilux is only found outside of North America. Are they being sold in the US? Last time I saw one was when those blokes on Top Gear tried to destroy one and could not …

  6. Jason says:

    TXTee – Absolutely. Maybe we’ll see more public transportation with the new public rail program grant Obama announced.

    Michael – Not for sale here, but you might have seen a test or manufacturer’s unit. You might also have seen a truck visiting the USA from Mexico or Central America (the Hilux is sold South of the border).

  7. Jr says:

    Michael – What!?!? Ive been dying to see one here in the USA, I honestly would rather take a Hilux over the Tacoma, Mainly for the diesel engine, But i wish we could import those easier here. Or Toyota atleast made a diesel truck here like they do everywhere else.

    I think if they put a diesel in the Tacoma and the Tundra that would give them even more of an edge over the “domestic” trucks.

    You are right about the Tacoma being a top selling mid-size truck, I see so many more tacos in my area than the domestic mid-size/compact trucks combined. Plus the tacoma is my first car 😛

  8. Jr says:

    Oh and i love the looks of the hilux alot more than the Tacoma, just google “TRD Hilux” on the image search and it just looks soooo much better than the TRD Off-Road Tacoma.

  9. Jason says:

    Jr – They are cool. Toyota would sell a diesel in the USA tomorrow were it not for the EPA’s ridiculous diesel emission standards.

  10. TerryM says:

    The front looks like a cat on steroids – while the back reminds me of those Subaru pickups from a few years ago. The aggressive looks could appeal to the entry level buyers who want to haul their bike, sports gear, etc. that wouldn’t necessarily fit in a trunk or back of a small SUV, while maintaining the rear seat for passengers.

  11. Jr says:

    Jason – Ha! Oh so true, Gotta Love the United States EPA. =\ A friend of mine claims he saw a hilux here where i live (Arround Houston,TX). But i doubt it, ive been here for 17 years and never seen one.

  12. Jason says:

    JR – Have you seen Isuzu’s D-Max? I’ve seen them in Central America and S.E. Asia with big wheels and tires, grill guards, and light bars. They look great and the diesel sounds great but still gets good mileage. http://www.isuzu.co.jp/world/p.....index.html

  13. Jr says:

    Jason – Why yes i have! I like how it looks too! But ive never seen any car shows purposely try to kill a D-Max, While on Top Gear their Hilux, went swmming, Set on fire, and was part of a building demolition and it still drove and started. I dont know if you’ve ever seen it, but im sure its somewhere in youtube.

    And Top Gear made the Toyota Hilux the first pickup/car to make it to the north pole, however they did do some heavy modifications to it.

    Heres an article on it:

  14. Jr says:

    Jason – Id say thats definitally toyota “tough” lol. I really think this whole accelerator issue has just been blown out of proportion due to the media. Serriously, i know people that dont know how to force their engine to shut off with the push start types, and some who dont know that shifting it into Neutral would stop the car from going if it gets stuck open.

    Then again, i am around a bunch of high school teenage girls ;).

  15. Jason says:

    JR – I think so too, but I’m having trouble with the fact that this is just another example of Toyota’s poor management. I don’t know that it’s indicative of slipping quality, but it’s not a good sign that Toyota is being ran efficiently.

  16. TerryM says:

    Jason: Ouch!!!

  17. Steve H says:

    Toyota would be stupid if they developed this truck. The ridgeline isn’t selling so well and toyota difinately couldn’t make a better truck like the ridgeline.

  18. Jason says:

    Steve – I think it only makes sense if it’s a hybrid pickup that gets 30mpg or so (see point #1)…otherwise, it’s a non-starter.

  19. Steve H says:

    Where is the Toyota hilux being sold?

  20. Jason says:

    Steve – They’re available worldwide (except the USA). Go figure.

  21. Steve H says:

    I think this truck would work for me. I think it’s expensive though

  22. Steve H says:

    I hope the F-100 comes out. I have had a couple of fords before this and they were OK cars.

  23. AC says:

    A small pickup must have a small price. $10,000 to $12,000 – with air and automatic. Maybe something just a bit larger than the Kei-trucks in Japan (with better crash safety).

  24. Jason (Admin) says:

    Steve H – I think the F100 is on it’s way.

    AC – I’d like to see that price point, but I think it’s impossible. Considering that small cars cost $14k, I don’t see how a unibody pickup (which has more steel, a bigger engine, and just as much labor cost) could be any less than $15k…but I’d like to see it.

    Ultimately, I agree with the larger point – a unibody pickup won’t succeed if it doesn’t save money over “regular” compact pickups like the Tacoma or Frontier. Scion is going to have to make sure this truck gets great fuel economy in order for it to be a strong seller.

  25. Mike Smith says:

    Um, NO. Make that HELL NO!! I’ve been driving a small Toyota truck since 1983. Started with a 1973, then a 1984 regular cab short-bed, 1986 xtra cab long bed (pig) 1985 one ton which I had until 2006. Currently have a 2002 regular cab that weighs 2800 pounds. I actually paid MORE for it (due to a higher interest rate on a used vehicle) in 2005 than I would have for a brand new 3200 pound 2005 model. Why? the 400 pounds of extra weight and bigger everwhere dimensions. Also the 2005+ is butt ugly.

    So I have a light-weight REAR WHEEL DRIVE vehicle with 104″ wheelbase and manual trans which when unloaded drives like a sports car, but can also tow a 1500 pound round bale of hay, can haul everything I need it to, and can chase critters around (off road) on a 250 acres ranch. Also when I want it too it can get 28MPG.

    How is this Clown-Camino thingy even in the same universe? If this is really going to be the future of the small truck I think I had best go find another 01-04 model with low miles and store it in the garage for when my 2002 wears out in 10-15 years.

  26. Jason (Admin) says:

    Mike Smith – I understand what you’re saying, and I think that a car-based pickup will *only* sell if it can offer excellent fuel economy on a regular basis. Otherwise, there won’t be much point. A Tacoma does a lot of these things now.

  27. […] rugged frame-based truck as well. While Marchionne acknowledged the difficulties of designing a unibody truck to meet pickup owners’ needs for payload and towing, he was unable to say when consumers would […]

  28. chris w. says:

    would buy a small truck like the A bat tomorrow if it were available and reasonably economical on gas. I really like the external shape of it.
    live in the city. find my H. Ridgeline a little large and gas greedy. like the shape of it and the front wheel drive.
    can use it for moving larger items and hunting in the fall.

  29. […] Will Consumers Buy Compact, Unibody Scion Pickups? AKPC_IDS += "2066,";Popularity: unranked […]

  30. Les Jones says:

    With the proper electric setup as a hybrid, the electric motor should give a small unibody truck the breakout force needed to get a reasonable weight up and moving. Scions have a great shot at doing so if Toyota will use their 4-cylinder technology coupled with the electric tech available to build a light-weight, aluminum bodied, hybrid diesel and to do it at a reasonable price. A diesel hybrid should bring great mileage, long-term dependability, and build off the Toyota reputation. Could they do it at 2700-2800 pounds vehicle weight as a unibody and haul at least 1,000 pounds? Something to consider.

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