Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon could do well for GM image

The real question behind GM’s new mid-size pick-ups is whether they can convert new-vehicle owners into pick-up clients when they go on sale next fall.

This could be both 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, 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 over the last decade, though. The Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, and Chevy and GMC’s earlier small pickups disappeared.

The Tacoma now dominates the market, accounting for about 70% 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 fullsize 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 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.