[video] GM Sees Colorado Truck to Revive Lifeless Mid-Size Pickups

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LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- Ford  built the compact Ranger pickup truck for 30 years but abandoned the effort in 2011 because it perceived that most buyers would be just as happy with an F-150 or a crossover.

Then again, it's not as if a lot of Ranger buyers existed back then. Sales had fallen to around 55,000 units in 2010, an 83% decline in just 10 years.  And that's where GM sees an opportunity.

Ranger "probably peaked in the mid-1990s," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell. "The segment did fairly well at its peak -- the domestics all had entries. But prices rose, and people decided that if they were going to pay that much, they might just as well buy a full-sized truck. And Ford needed to concentrate on other vehicles, like compact cars." 

According to IHS Automotive's Polk, compact pickups accounted for 1.5% of the market in the first 10 months of 2013, down from 8% in 1991. Meanwhile, full-size pickups accounted for 12.3% of the market this year, up from 8.6% in 1991. Of the 205,128 compact/mid-size pickup truck sales during the first 10 months, Toyota  Tacoma had 66% and Nissan Frontier had 28%, according to Kelley Blue Book.

GM unveiled its 2015 Chevrolet Colorado Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show, in what is widely viewed as the show's most important vehicle introduction.

Why a mid-size truck? "What a lot of people are missing is that when they look at the declining sales, they see a shrinking segment," said Tony Johnson, Colorado marketing manager. "But the buyers are still there. They just don't have a valid entry. The segment has two vehicles, and it's been 10 years since (either) had a significant refresh. Why would a customer go to this segment?"

A smaller pickup truck is a good fit for the LA show, the key auto show in the state where 10% of all U.S. vehicles are bought and where small is almost always better. According to Polk, 30.5% of all vehicles bought in the LA market are small cars, compared with 22% in the rest of the country. Also, 6.6% of vehicles purchased in LA are trucks, compared with 13.7% in the rest of the country, Polk research shows. Might a small truck get some momentum?

"LA is a huge market where there are more mid-size trucks sold in any state except for Texas," Johnson said. And Chevrolet is already gaining share in California, where its retail sales are up 21% this year.

Johnson said GM surveyed customers around the country about the potential return of the Colorado, which was discontinued in the U.S. after 2012, while continuing to be sold in 16 foreign markets. "We went out and talked to customers," he said. "We wanted to make sure there would be a customer for it. We found it is a myth that people buy mid-size pickups only because they can't afford full-size. Household income is the same (for buyers of both). But full-size is too big. Its capability is way more than (some buyers) will ever use.