After decades of dormancy the American mini truck market is booming, thanks in large part to the phenomenal response to the Ford Maverick. This pint-size unibody pickup is one of the automaker’s hottest tickets, with order sheets filling up just days after opening and a lengthy waiting list of buyers wanting to get in on the frugal and affordable model.
Into this fray Hyundai has also launched the compelling Santa Cruz, a similarly small pickup based on the brand’s Tucson crossover. An upscale take on the mini-truck concept, the Santa Cruz is more comfortable and quicker than its Ford rival, and comes with a higher price tag to match.
In the face of a clear thirst for models on the opposite side of the spectrum from the monstrous Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado, but with only two current players, the field looks wide open for newcomers. After years of avoiding the U.S. due to onerous trade restrictions specifically targeting trucks built outside its borders (see the “chicken tax”), pent-up demand might convince the companies behind international pickups to come up with creative work-arounds such as knock-down kits or corporate partnerships for American assembly.
The thing is, there are lots of great smaller pickups out there in the world that Americans don’t have access to. Which of these potential worldwide competitors would fare best against Hyundai and Ford’s more established models? Here are five mini (or should we say reasonable?) trucks that have a shot at making it in America.
Fiat Toro/Ram 1000
The Ram 1000 (as it is sold in most of South America, except in Brazil where it is built and badged as the Fiat Toro) is a close match for the Maverick in terms of size, coming within a few inches of its overall length and featuring the same width. It’s also similarly configured, with a four-door edition available on top of its single-cab base model.
Based on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade and Compass, which are both available in the U.S., it features an available four-cylinder engine already cleared for sale here (the 2.4-liter Tigershark from Stellantis) along with a turbocharged unit that would likely meet federal regulations without much investment.
The Ram 1000 is clearly ready for prime time, with only brand inertia keeping the automaker from testing the waters on its home turf. Ram is currently only playing in the full-size segment, with rumors of a mid-size Dakota model arriving on the same platform as the Jeep Gladiator swirling for the past several years. But chances are we see that Dakota before an even smaller truck is introduced.
Chevrolet is playing the “Mexico-only” game when it comes to North American mini trucks. As with Ram, the company originally tagged in its European partner Opel to create a unibody trucklet that was sold as the Tornado in Mexico and the Montana/Utility everywhere else, before eventually moving to the brand’s Brazilian small car platform in its second generation.
For 2023, the stakes have been raised, with the Montana moving away from its Opel roots to share a new, somewhat larger chassis with the Chevrolet Tracker crossover. The redesigned Montana is much more in line with what American buyers have voted for with their dollars in buying the Maverick, as a four-door crew cab model is now in the cards. Past versions of the truck have relied on efficient, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, something that General Motors has in ample supply stateside should it decide to import the Montana and make a move on the Maverick.
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The Dacia Duster pickup is the ultra-mini on this list, a vehicle that checks in significantly shorter than both the Hyundai Santa Cruz and the Ford Maverick (despite the presence of a nearly five-and-a-half-foot cargo bed). Why include the Dacia in the face of its larger competition? It’s fair to say that there exists a niche for a single-cab runabout in the United States. Witness the popularity of kei trucks, ultra-tiny pickups imported from Japan that are significantly smaller than even the Dacia, which are being shipped over in droves by those seeking cheap and reliable utility.
While it’s unlikely that we’ll see something like the Honda Acty or the Suzuki Carry sold as-new in America anytime soon, the larger Dacia (which the Romanian company brought in-house following a critical mass of aftermarket Duster conversions) has a better chance — especially as a re-skin for a more prominent automaker.
Renault Duster Oroch
Wait, another Duster? Yes, but this time with proper Renault branding, rather than the badge of its Dacia subsidiary. More importantly, the Duster Oroch is a class above the Dacia, making it directly comparable to the Maverick and Santa Cruz already on sale here.
Renault hasn’t had a business presence in North America in over 30 years, but it does have an in thanks to its corporate partnership with Japanese manufacturer Nissan. A lack of success in the full-size game could have Nissan looking at the lower reaches of the pickup world with a potential re-badge bringing the Oroch up from South America and adopting the Terrano nameplate or extending the Kicks brand for U.S. sales.
Volkswagen is a wild card when it comes to predicting what products it’s willing to experiment with in America. It briefly sold a Golf-based pickup here called the Caddy (or Rabbit Pickup) in the 1980s, even going so far as to assemble it in Pennsylvania to avoid the chicken tax. And yet, it refuses to sell the larger Amarok mid-size truck outside of the Mexican and South American markets where it’s enjoyed considerable success.
What, then, to make of the Saveiro’s chances? The Brazil-built ute is another small-timer in terms of length, as it borrows its chassis from the Gol subcompact (a South American favorite), yet unlike the also-small Dacia Duster it has a somewhat larger cabin and an existing customer base to potentially tap into. The latter is especially true considering that the standard Golf has been eliminated from U.S. showrooms, potentially creating a vacuum for an affordable compact that the Saveiro, like the Maverick at Ford, could fill.
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