Small may be the new big

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One of the interesting side notes to the official rollout of GM’s new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup is how it’s yet another piece of evidence regarding the “shrinkage” going on in the commercial vehicle space.

Now, true, this pickup is being heavily promoted by GM primarily to the retail consumer, with work truck buyers being placed on the back burner for now.

But the capabilities and footprint of the Colorado definitely fit the new realities of urban life for commercial users – namely that cities are not only getting more crowded, with streets more and more congested, they are going to be the primary centers of human population growth and business activity in the near future.

[Below you can view a video overview of the new 2015 Colorado put together by PickupTrucks.com]

Indeed, that’s one reason the rebirth of the Colorado – a mid-sized model GM discontinued, along with its GMC Canyon twin, in the North American market back in 2012 – first occurred overseas several years ago, in Thailand, where far more crowded Asian urban centers demanded more compact work vehicles.

Yet similar urban factors helped spur GM to reintroduce the Colorado in the North American market, though it’s of a vastly different design and shape than what the OEM intially rolled out on global basis back in 2011.

“We’ve taken all the attributes of a full-size [pickup] truck and put them not only in a smaller package, but wrapped it in ‘car like’ feel as well,” Chris Hilts, GM’s creative design manager for the Colorado, told me at a special pre-launch media conference the automaker held last week in Detroit.

“Yet it still has all the ‘tough truck’ attributes every customer expects; but it’s sculpted so it doesn’t feel like you’re operating a ‘small’ truck,” he stressed. “This is difficult because getting all those expected ‘truck’ attributes – more interior storage space, more electronic offerings, more room for the driver and passengers – is tight for a full-size pickup and thus even tighter for a mid-size model.”

Joyce Mattman, commercial product director for GM’s Fleet & Commercial division, stressed to me at the event that a “work truck package” will be provided for the 2015 Colorado, including a “box delete” option so the pickup bed can be removed to provide for the installation of a wide assortment of service body styles.

She also noted, though that growing traffic congestion in cities coupled with “real interest” in fuel economy is expected to drive demand for the “work version” of the mid-size Colorado.

[On a different topic, watch Mattman discuss the potential for compressed natural gas or CNG in the commercial arena below.]

“Work fleets have really nowhere to go below a half-ton pickup today, yet the trend towards downsizing and ‘lightweighting’ is gaining speed,” she explained. “In the past, the mid-size pickup didn’t have all the capability a work fleet needed. That’s why we’re bringing that expanded capability back to this segment.”

The other dynamic at play, according to Mattman, is the growing “acceptance” in the market for smaller displacement engines – something that will be critical for future fuel economy gains within the mid-sized truck segment.

“The dynamic we’ve seen is that U.S. truck buyers, who used to favor only big engines, are growing to accept the V-6,” she said. “Certainly now the car buyer is accepting of V-4 engines and we expect to see that eventual acceptance among truck buyers, too.”

That includes the 2.8 liter Duramax diesel GM expects to offer for the Colorado in the 2016 model year; a small displacement engine that it expects will deliver good low-end torque.

“Just look globally at all the vans and small trucks needed to handle the more crowded nature of today’s cities,” she told me. “Many of our customers saw the vehicles we offered overseas and said, ‘Why can’t I get that here?’ They really want that mid-size option but they want more capability and payload for it as well.”

Mattman added that there’s also lot more pressure on many companies to downsize their vehicles to get better fuel economy and thus be more “green” too. “We’re seeing that from a lot of local government city buyers,” she said.

This towards “smaller yet better” is even reflected in the full-size truck market, too: just witness Ford Motor Co.’s introduction of its EcoBoost engine for its F-150 pickup line a few years back – a smaller displacement, fuel-sipping powerhouse that Ford hoped in part would help make up for its discontinuance of its Ranger compact pickup in the North American market.

So, with all this in mind, will GM’s reborn Colorado mid-size pickup win over commercial buyers? Right now that’s hard to say. But we’ll know for certain when GM starts selling this model in the fall next year.

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