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We’ve been talking about the difference we’ve seen in the truck market this year. Even down where we live in the land of big trucks, it’s starting to change. I was walking into one of the local big boxes today and saw three lawn care guys jump out of this truck, pictured above. It got me to thinking about those same three guys a few years ago and what they might have driven then.

It could be a total fluke, of course, but these gents didn’t look like they really cared about style or image. They just had the vehicle that got them where they needed to go with room to carry potted plants and all manner of equipment in the back. A few years ago it would have been a Ford F-250 but now I’m starting to see more and more crews opt for a ride like this.

It looks like the truck market may already be moving to encompass a more broad definition of the term “work truck” than the big three are willing to admit yet. I’d like to think that trucks aren’t dead and the revival of the truck in this country might be as simple as consumers selecting a rig that gets better mileage but trades some of the size they didn’t need for practicality, be it import-built or not.
 
Of course something like this won’t work for everyone, but it is interesting. Small, more practical rides like this are popping up all over town and I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to play out. What do you think? Let us know in comments.

 

31 Responses to Editorial: Trucks and Practicality

  1. Rick says:

    That is a Nissan Clipper or Mitsubishi MiniCab.

    I used to live in Japan, so I’ve seen a lot of trucks like this. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Subrau, etc, etc, all sell these in Asian markets, but mostly in japan where the short wheelbase is a bonus on the small roads of residential neighborhoods.

    You can buy these in the US and use them as Farm Trucks or ATVs (they come in 4×4). However you can’t register them for normal road use.

    We can’t see the license plate but that truck could have been registered in Mexico or Canada. I’m not sure if they are sold in those countries or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    You can buy them new or used from these guys:
    http://www.allamericanminitrucks.com/index.htm

  2. arby says:

    I can see one advantage of the pictured truck – ease of loading. The sides all fold down and you are left with a very low lift height. And you can maneuver the object from three sides. Contrast that with an F250 – only one way to load, high lift height, interference from the wheel wells…

    But, it’s nothing new. VW’s been doing it for years. They just haven’t imported them to North America for years :^(

  3. Keith says:

    Ford is also planning to bring their European offering to North America. From what I”ve seen of European roads and parking, driving a full sized pickup (F-x50) or van (E-x50) would be too big.

    http://www.trucktrend.com/roadtests/van/163_0909_2010_ford_transit_connect_first_drive/index.html

  4. Keith says:

    … and for the tradesperson or delivery service that doesn’t need to carry much:
    http://www.cobrasales.com/delivery.htm

  5. Toolhearty says:

    We had a Cushman mini-mini-van at work for running around on campus (71HP, 3-speed manual tranny). Would have loved to have owned one for my five mile commute to work in winter (looks like they can be had, used, for less than a kilobuck). Alas, they cannot be licensed for road use.

  6. jeffrey immer says:

    yeah i have seen these around in 2 and 4 door, the most popular one i have seen is the Bongo, i think it’s from Kia, i’d love to have a truck like that at home. very practical, i have seen them as duallies too.

  7. Micael says:

    You can register them in some states, such as here in Mississippi. I see more and more of them.

  8. Chris says:

    I believe Oklahoma recently passed a law allowing registration of these and similar — even smaller, three-wheel — trucks. There was an article about it in Car and Driver a few months back.

    cl

  9. river1 says:

    arizona is another state which allows these. a coworker of mine drives one to work occasionally.

    later jim

  10. Dustin says:

    What do you think?

    I think that until some sort of study is presented, and knowing what we know about our broken brain, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that there’s actually something to talk about here.

  11. Mike47 says:

    For umpteen years I’ve wished Ford would make a full-size pickup with a cab-over-engine, Freightliner style, sort of like the old Econoline but beefier and better-looking. The answer I always hear is they can’t, because it wouldn’t meet federal crash-impact standards. O.K., tell me how a small COE like this is acceptable to be on the same road?

  12. DDT says:

    Trucks are useless in most areas of construction. Landscaping is one thing, but we have 2 carpenters where I work (I am an apprentice by the way). The one who ends up doing a better job in our crew is the one who has a van, because everything is organized, and everything is there ready to go. The one with the pickup truck? Geez, you have to pull so much crap out just to get what you need. You can’t put shelves at all. He’s never prepared because he’s forgot stuff from home, or ends up having to go to home depot again. The laborer drives a minivan and gets more stuff in it.

    Most trucks people buy can’t even carry a full sheet good. So then they opt out for the stupid trailer. He has a brand new Ford f150 and he’s 5’5. If they made the truck lower like most trucks used to be then maybe they wouldn’t have to invent stupid step ladders to get into the truck. They’re so akward to drive (and I own a 94 cadillac fleetwood broughm with the LT1 engine).

    Nissan and Isuzu should bring back those small pickups they had in the 90s, chevy and ford should bring back the el camino and ranchero, because for most people, that’s all they need anyways. I met a carpenter who had a GMC 3500 twin turbo diesel, and he rarely picked up material because most of it was delievered, and he maybe had 200 pounds in the back at most. He did have a trailer, but really, all the tools now are really light. A 1500 would’ve sufficed.

    Just my advice on trucks and practicality.

  13. heywood says:

    This is a point I’ve been hammering away at forever.

    My main issue is that we in the US cannot get a small/medium sized pickup with a small, super-efficient diesel engine.

    As far as I’m concerned, this is a travesty that California and CARB (California Air Resources Board) has perpetrated upon us. I am actually very informed of and interested in environmental issues, but as somebody in the trades I am obsessed with efficiency and economic feasibility; this whole issue on the other hand smacks of corporate interests and enviro-nazis out of control. Apparently the European standards aren’t good enough for us; we need something so stringent you can’t economically prepare an engine clean enough (only VW and Mercedes (Jeep Liberty diesel have succeeded in moving small diesel over here).

    You can’t convince me that many guys who buy full-size monster trucks with diesels wouldn’t buy a 4×4 sonoma/ranger/SR5(toyota) etc. with a diesel that got 30-35mpg. I probably would if it wasn’t super expensive.

  14. toby says:

    Dustin is a weirdo! I love these little trucks. I had a Samurai for years and it was a great on and off road vehicle…light, cheap and good on gas…the trifecta!

  15. ~eriC says:

    I love it. A truck distilled to absolute utility.

    Ford offers an awesome little diesel in the ranger over in the EU. I’m a little pissed that ford dropped it’s plans to introduce a smaller diesel for the F-150.

    I also like Mike47’s idea, the econolines were great trucks. My dad had one when I was a kid, love to get my hands on one now.

  16. Simon says:

    They sell these used & importred in Ontario now – here is my local dealer (a good one) and an explanation of these Japanese trucks.

    http://ontariominitrucks.com/omt_faq.aspx

    for me, the right hand drive aspect is a deal-breaker though.

    Simon

  17. Michael W says:

    I guess I’m strange because I’m pretty happy with my Frontier Crew Cab. I’ve got a cap on the back, it carries all my tools and I can fit all my kids in it (even both of my teens that are already taller than me). If I don’t get materials delivered I can haul them also.

    I can also take off the cap and get a decent load of sand, hay or gravel in the bed (try that with a van!).

    These Kei trucks are great though. I would buy one (or a Kei mini van) to zip around here for some of my smaller jobs (planing sticky doors, fitting locks) if I could get it registered in NY (I guess you can get ones that are older registered here, but not the newer ones – screwy).

  18. ScaryFast says:

    I’ve never seen one of these little trucks before last week, and now I’ve seen a few (or the same one) quite a few times since.

  19. Coligny says:

    Yup, in japan those things are everywhere… 660cc engine, cheap to register. Can turn on a dime. My nearest flower shop even got a dualcab one with a little flatbed end (pickup-like but around 50-70cm deep) that is absolutely awesome to transport taller plants or small trees. And strangely enough, for the van passanger version, quite tough. I once saw a dumptruck rearend a Suzuky Wagon-R and only the boot space suffered deformation. The space for passenger was entirely shielded from the impact. The front of the dumptruck was totalled enough to break/bend the steering and render it impossible to move on its own front wheels.

  20. _Jon says:

    I agree that lots of big trucks are not bought for hauling things. They are bought for safety and security.

    I see that these little vehicles have their value and cost is probably the mitigating factor in their purchase. But safety certainly isn’t.

    But we are a society that can afford special-purpose vehicles like this for specific jobs and I think that is great.

    If we take a longer-term look, however, I think we’ll see a return to big trucks. Eventually, hybrids and electric systems will become efficient enough to provide the equivalent to 50mpg from an F150. When that happens, lots of people will go back to driving big trucks.

  21. Dustin says:

    Dustin is a weirdo! I love these little trucks.

    You misunderstand me. I think they’re awesome little vehicles.

    What I question is whether there’s actually some significant trend to talk about here. There may or may not be, but seeing a couple of them at Lowes doesn’t really mean anything.

  22. melvin says:

    It’s a essentially a hassle free import in Canada for these trucks over 15 years old and we’re starting to see lots of them driving around.

    Small bare utility trucks like the original Dakota for example are a market that are severely under serviced in the US and Canada. No money in it I guess when you can make 15K on a new 150.

  23. Aaron Baca says:

    It’s criminal that we can’t get these in the states. One of these with a 100-hp diesel would be perfect for so many things. I love domestic pickups, but they’ve just been getting ridiculous lately with all the standard amenities. I want to buy a mid-sized pickup with a diesel 4 and manual locks, mirrors and windows, a RADIO, vinyl seats and floors. I want it to be like an oil drum on the inside. If I want a car, I’ll drive on that I already have. A pickup should be a minimalist experience of man and machine and should embody the soul of a purpose-built tool.

  24. MeasureOnceCutTwice says:

    Give me a ’73 Ford Country Squire station wagon! With the seat down it could carry a stack of 4′ X 8′ sheets, a pile of studs, and still close the tailgate. With the tailgate down you could easily carry 10 – 12′ stuff. Rear seat up, and you could carry 6 people in comfort, plus stuff in the back. Good balance of mom’s daily driver plus utility.

  25. Mister Mike says:

    Why can’t we get trucks and vans like this? Because years ago the US Auto lobby got congress to throw a wrench into the foreign car import business. The rest of the world has had to deal with the high cost of fuel for years, so lightweight vans are very common now. My wife is British so we go to London often and Tradesman vans in the UK are sooooo coooool. Here are some of my favorites:

    http://www.ford.co.uk/Commercialvehicles/TransitConnect/Overview

    http://www.citroen.co.uk/new-vans/citroen-nemo/

  26. Mister Mike says:

    Oh yeah one more thing. The Citroen Nemo van that I gave a link to above:

    “For Fuel economy the 1.4HDi diesel is remarkable, with a stunning return of 62.8mpg and super-low carbon emissions of just 119g/km, Nemo is kinder to the planet too.”

    A British gallon of petrol is larger so that translates to 52.3 MPG
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And our big 3 are crying because the CAFE standards went over 20 mpg??

  27. Coligny says:

    Dudes, with 100Hp in such a light truck you are aiming for the dragstrip, not the hardware shop…

  28. ambush says:

    Kinda sad that the ranger is the most basic truck available. It sure is a damn cool truck though.

  29. luckychucky says:

    Turns out that size just might not not matter, and bigger may not always equate to safer:
    http://gas2.org/2008/10/21/are-tiny-gas-saving-cars-unsafe-today-mine-saved-my-life/

  30. Cameron Watt says:

    MeasuerOnceCutTwice: That’s a great suggestion! An old station wagon is a great vehicle for traveling on logging roads….providing they’re somewhat graded.

    An old friend had one and it made for a more pleasant trip than an empty, oversprung truck. The long wheelbase smooths things out and even the upholstery helps reduce noise.

    A popular truck for loggers back home was a long-box crew cab (a.k.a. a six-pack). The truck was too long to go off-road with but the cab and long wheelbase made for a fairly comfortable ride that would haul six men and their kit.

    The long vehicles are also well mannered on a slippery surface. If you were driving a short wheelbase truck then you had to pay close attention to what you were doing or you’d quickly find yourself sideways. With the six-pack you get a lot of warning and can just let off the throttle at the first sign of drift; it pulls back into line.

    Don’t overlook how noise and vibration can contribute to fatigue. I stripped the interior of my worktruck and though it was wonderful being able to clean my interior out with a garden hose, the engine and gear noise started driving me nuts. My compramise was to put mats on the trans hump and passenger side; my side still gets hosed. 🙂

    As for those small imports:

    What about parts availability? Do you have to ship big-ticket items, or even routine maintenance parts from overseas? Or are they cheap enough to just buy a couple extra…

  31. DanS says:

    I used to have two of these. Absolutely amazing for picking up stuff around town. Easily 50-60 mpg. Throw a set of ATV tires on it, and you have a truck that can get almost anywhere. One of mine had a 4wd low that was LOW. You could cruise up the side of any mountain, no problems.

    Finding parts can be a problem.. Sometimes you can make ATV parts fit with some love and a big hammer. I’ve heard axles can be a problem, but they can be rebuilt.

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