The Message At Cobo Hall Last Week Could Have Been 'The Truck Stop's Here'

Honda said 2015 would be the year of Honda. Cadillac said it will be the year, or maybe the decade, of Cadillac. It was definitely the year of Cobo Hall, as everyone says it was the best Detroit show since before the recession. 

Be all that as it may, this is definitely going to be the year of trucks. Gas prices, housing starts, economy, new products, resurrected segments — all point to a banner year for flatbeds on wheels. And as for the auto show last week? The Texas State Fair can bake itself into a mass of fried Oreos, because critical launches were in Detroit, where — no big surprise — Ford's F-150 won North American Truck of the Year. With that elephant in the room, Nissan introduced the Titan XD Crew, which it hopes will rule its own niche. 

And FCA U.S.'s Ram Truck division is confronting Ford with a new version of their Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE (for "high fuel efficiency"), which it is touting for best-in-class fuel economy. 

What makes the Titan XD unique? Under the hood is an available Cummins V8 diesel engine. You see that kind of motor in super-duty trucks, not full-size pickups. Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Nissan Motor, said there is a big opportunity for that configuration because it essentially creates a new category — a half-step up between full and super duty. In an official Q&A at the show, he said the truck has the potential to grab a 10% share of trucks because (and I paraphrase) there are a lot of people searching for a Goldilocks pickup: between big and small, with big-truck power.

He said a quarter of the two million pickup trucks sold every year in the U.S. are heavy duty, mostly diesel, and none of the one million light-duty pick-up trucks sold in the United States has V-8 diesel. "If you wanted a V-8 diesel, you simply had no option. You had to go heavy-duty – until now." The opportunity, he said, is among the 75,000 full-size truck buyers moving up to super-duty trucks because they need more power, and 75,000 or so moving down because they don't need the size. "That is 150,000 owners who are struggling to find the right truck. For many of these customers, the new Titan is the truck that they have been looking for." 

Toyota, meanwhile, unveiled the 2016 Tacoma mid-size truck at the show, a challenge to the new Colorado and Canyon from Chevy and GMC, respectively. With that battle brewing, the midsize truck market is resembling one of those WWE wrestling circuses: a tag-team stands in the ring, challenging the nemesis to come through the ropes if he dares. Toyota, with that first redo in a decade, is over the ropes. 

The marketing message from Chevrolet around Colorado is that a smaller truck can be a "lifestyle" vehicle for a young, active urbanite. Jesse Toprak, president of auto market research Toprak Consulting, says there is a market for the category, but it's not going to be a lifestyle buyer. "The service industry is the majority: everything from lawn care to plumbing and remodeling. Lifestyle purchases are sporadic; it's mostly small businesses." Let the games begin.

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