I loved Chevrolet's new Colorado midsize pickup when I sat in one recently at a secret briefing in a secure, windowless room 11 stories above Detroit's New Center neighborhood.

I loved Chevrolet’s new Colorado midsize pickup when I sat in one recently at a secret briefing in a secure, windowless room 11 stories above Detroit’s New Center neighborhood.

Then again, I don’t own a pickup and I’m not likely to buy one anytime soon.

Will the Colorado and its sibling the GMC Canyon be appealing enough to convert me, or anybody else, into a pickup owner when they go on sale next fall?

In a nutshell, that’s the potential and peril facing the new pickup. How many people silently long for a truck that’s a bit smaller, more fuel-efficient and easier to park than the big Chevy Silverados and Ford F-150s?

“It’s probably not a huge market, but Toyota’s done extremely well with the Tacoma,” the best-selling current midsize pickup, Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. “The Colorado and Canyon are an interesting play. They could do well for GM.”

Once, every automaker had a small pickup. They sold in large numbers, attracted young buyers and helped automakers meet fuel economy requirements. Demand withered in the past decade, though. The Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, and Chevy and GMC’s earlier small pickups disappeared.

The Tacoma dominates the market, accounting for about 70 percent of midsize pickup sales this year. The Nissan Frontier is the other player, with 51,423 sales through October.

Consultant IHS Automotive projects midsize pickup sales will total about 253,000 this year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the nearly 1.6 million full-size pickups sold in the first 10 months of 2013.

Most observers figure full-size pickups crushed smaller models because first-time buyers turned away from little pickups to small cars, and smaller trucks lacked a compelling selling point.

Chevrolet hopes to escape that trap by offering high fuel economy and appealing to different buyers. Just as many full-size SUV owners switched to more fuel efficient and convenient crossover models, GM hopes its new pickups will find a niche as family vehicles.

The Colorado looks terrific, and its crew cab four-door model should offer more passenger space than many midsize sedans. If GM pairs those factors with good fuel economy and an attractive price, it could be onto something.

“The average pickup on the road today is more than 11 years old,” IHS automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley said. “A lot of people who have been out of the market since the recession may be willing to consider a smaller pickup.”

IHS projects about 100,000 Colorado and Canyon sales in 2015, their first full year on the market. Some sales will come from the Frontier and Tacoma, but the new pickups could also attract new buyers.

“They’ll need to take sales from some other types of vehicles,” Brinley said.

GM’s promise to deliver the most fuel-efficient pickups could help, if the Colorado and Canyon approach the fuel economy of comparable crossovers and SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.

The Colorado, as you’ll see at the North American International Auto Show in January, is smaller than big pickups, but it’s not a toy. At 205.6 to 224.5 inches long and capable of towing up to 6,700 pounds, it’s roomier and more capable than some full-size pickups were a decade ago.

“The pricing will be key,” Krebs said. “People are willing to pay more for well-equipped small cars today than in the past. That may be true for trucks, too.”



Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.


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