A new Ford Ranger compact pickup debuts at the 2010 Australian International Motor Show, set to go on sale in 180 territories around the world. But that won't include the United States. Ford has confirmed 2011 as the Ranger's last model year in its domestic market, bringing an end to the nameplate after a run of nearly 30 years.
Ford previously announced the closure of the Ranger's St. Paul, Minnesota plant in 2009, extending it through 2011 to meet the vehicle's slow but steady demand. Mazda cancelled its version of the Ranger – the B-Series Truck – after the 2009 model year. But the Ranger's winding down brings to light a bigger change in the pickup world: the demise of compact trucks.
The Ford Ranger isn't the first of its kind to be discontinued. In November 2009, Fiat announced the likely end of the Dodge Dakota after the 2011 model year, with a potential replacement described simply as "under consideration" – not a certainty. And when asked about the future of the mid-size Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon in February, General Motors' then-vice chairman, Bob Lutz, said the trucks' future was uncertain, adding that "they may well go away."
Sales of the compact Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier remain steady, but they don't seem to be as desirable as they once were. Instead, more buyers are choosing larger, more durable trucks like Chevrolet's Silverado and Ford's F-Series due to the wider variety of configurations and attractive pricing on low-end models – even compared to compacts.
One possibility for the segment's survival is the unibody pickup. Unibody trucks like the Honda Ridgeline give up some towing, hauling and off-road capabilities in exchange for a more comfortable, car-like ride and improved fuel economy. Such a move could help distinguish compact trucks from their large-scale counterparts, both in terms of style and usefulness.
Regardless, the Ranger won't be returning any time soon. And its rivals may not be far behind. The one sure thing on the compact truck's horizon is uncertainty.