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FIELD NOTES: Truck

Ford Motor Company recently announced they are suspending orders for their Maverick (A) compact truck because they have outsold the company's capacity to manufacture them. The Maverick is an anomaly in today's pickup truck market, where bigger is better, and even bigger is even better. My "midsize" Toyota Tacoma is as large as many full-size pickups from the early 2000s. A new full-size F-150 or Silverado wouldn't have looked out of place at a monster truck show in the '70s. 

The major truck manufacturers justify their increasingly enormous vehicles by claiming "no market" for smaller trucks. The success of the Maverick, however, would seem to contradict that. 

The Maverick is based on the Ford Escape compact SUV, and while it is slightly longer than the Escape, it is significantly smaller than any other pickup currently sold in the U.S. It does not have the towing capacity or off-road capabilities of larger trucks, but it should work just fine for the suburban homeowner who is merely looking to haul a few bales of pine straw, build a storage shed, or move their Aunt Myrtle's dresser. A position I find highly relatable. 

In the spring of 1988, I found myself in desperate need of a pickup truck. I had moved into a small farmhouse in rural Wood County, Ohio, six months earlier with the somewhat naive idea that it would be possible to manage an acre homestead and small apple orchard with two tiny compact cars. For the first few months, I made this work because one of the "perks" of my management job at Best Products was the occasional use of the "company vehicle," an ancient and battle-scarred Ford Bronco, for just the cost of filling its tank. The Bronco had given up the ghost around Easter, however, and the need for a more practical vehicle of my own became very obvious one night as we drove home from Bowling Green with Janet in the back seat holding onto a half-dozen landscape timbers, roughly two-thirds the length of which were sticking out the back passenger side window of our '86 Chevy Nova. 

My dream truck at the time was the mid-sized Jeep Comanche (D), which I, perhaps incorrectly, perceived to be a more rugged and manly vehicle than the similarly sized Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10. The Comanche featured the same classic angular look as the Jeep Cherokee SUV. Conversely, the other truck I liked was something called a Dodge Rampage (C). It was a cross between a pickup truck and a compact car, sort of a diminutive El Camino. The problem with these vehicles (and the Ford and Chevy, for that matter) was that they cost money, something that was in relatively short supply in those early days at the Little House On The Highway. 

We were still making payments from deep underwater on both our cars, and the downpayment on the house had all but emptied our bank account. There was just no way to make a new truck work in a fiscally responsible manner. Ironically, this led to what would probably go down as one of the WORST vehicle purchases I have ever made. 

If I couldn't have a new Jeep Comanche, then a 12-year-old Jeep J-10 (B) would work nearly as well, right? Not exactly. For the few hundred dollars I could afford, I got an underpowered gas-guzzler that was disintegrating into rust before my eyes. While the J-10 did provide the hauling capacity I required, it was a constant headache. Its six-cylinder, three-speed manual drive train, heavy-duty construction, and less than aerodynamic shape made it a hazard at any speed above a crawl, all the while burning fuel at a rate that would shock even the sensibilities of Suburban and Expedition owners. The funny thing is that when I look at pictures of J-10s now, they were, in their un-rusted state, actually rather good-looking vehicles, sharing many design cues with the iconic Grand Wagoneer. 

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the success of the Maverick is likely to encourage other manufacturers to offer smaller trucks. This spring, Hyundai is coming out with its SUV/pickup mashup, the Santa Cruz, and GM is reportedly planning a small El Camino-like vehicle based on the Equinox. In the meantime, Ford appears to have the small truck market to itself.   

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