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The only major advantage the i-350 has over the GM siblings is a 7-year/75,000-mile powertrain limited warranty and a 3-year/50,000-mile basic. The GM pair have the standard 3-year/36,000-mile warranties. Isuzu Roadside Assistance is offered at no charge.

There isn’t much else to report that PUTC hasn’t already discussed in numerous previous articles on the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. The i-350 platform was the first of four new midsize trucks that came out within about a year of each other and trails in many performance categories, especially where customers like to shop by the numbers.

The I5 engine is down on horsepower compared to the Toyota Tacama, Dodge Dakota and Nissan Frontier, and it suffers from lack of a 5-speed automatic. The i-350 and GM siblings have a max towing capacity of just 4,000 pounds. The competition is over 6,000 pounds. Since Isuzu was instrumental in the GMT355’s development, the company has to assume some of the responsibility for this misstep. The official explanation from GM has been that midsize truck owners aren’t going to tow heavy items; just small boats, personal watercraft and dirt bikes. So why not relax the suspension for a better ride instead of stiffening it up for heavy loads? The strategy is perfect logical and fairly well executed but unfortunately fails miserably as a marketing tool.

As best as we can find on the Internet, one of the turbo-diesel D-Max trucks boasts a 7,000-pound towing capacity. I’m not sure if the Isuzu diesels meet US emissions standards, but here’s a perfect opportunity for GM to take bold step and introduce a newsworthy upgrade to the GMT355 trucks. Problem is, would the US truck buyer pay extra for a diesel in a compact truck?

This leads us to a deeper look at current and past sales numbers for the compact truck market since the four new trucks were introduced. As we all know, Ford has practically abandoned the Ranger, which nearly outsold its closest competitor by a 3-to-1 margin less than 10 years ago. But suddenly, it’s the second best-selling truck of the new year as Dodge and Chevy slide backwards. Here’s a closer look at sales of all compact/midsize pickups.

Feb 2006
Jan-Feb 2006
Jan-Feb 2005
2005 Total
2004 Total
Dodge Dakota
10,843 14,339
Ford Ranger 6,383 12,569 15,858 120,958 156,322
Chevrolet Colorado 5,770 10,845 18,434 128,359 117,475
Chevrolet S-10 4 4 50 149 10,014
GMC Canyon 1,351 2,554 4,746 34,845 27,193
Honda Ridgeline 4,485
8,299 133 42,593 0
Isuzu i-280/i-350 283
488 0 889 0
Mazda B-Series 426
792 1,097 5,872 10,266
Mitsubishi Raider 492
869 0 1,145 0
Nissan Frontier 5,845
11,391 11,976 72,838 70,703
Subaru Baja 297 583 841 6,239 7,316
Toyota Tacoma 13,735 26,145 20,365 168,831 152,933

The compact/midsize market continues shifting toward the imports, although the early strength of the Ranger is unexpected. Perhaps the low price point is grabbing all the budget buyers and fleets early in the year. But the new Tacoma is selling twice as many vehicles as its nearest competitor. All totaled, there were 85,382 compact/midsize pickups sold in the first two months of 2006, according to our chart. That’s down from 87,827 from Jan-Feb 2005. But import brands accounted for 48,567 of those units for 57 percent share in 2006. Last year, imports made up only 39% of the total compact/midsize share through the same two months. Granted, the Isuzu, Mazda and Mitsubishi models are rebranded American trucks but take out those units and the numbers don’t shift much. Truck buyers are flocking to Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

With Nissan keeping a sturdy posture in the fullsize pickup market and the pending release of the new Toyota Tundra, we wonder if Detroit truck makers are focusing all their talents and resources on protecting their big trucks. The compact truck market is declining, mostly due to incentives in the fullsize trucks that bring prices down so close to the small trucks. But it remains a sizeable market and one that Detroit shouldn’t give up on.

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