Here's the update at half time in the auto show season. For the past couple of seasons, truck buyers have been the focus of the factories' marketing efforts, and the auto shows have been more like truck and SUV shows. This year, at the season-opening Greater Los Angeles Auto Show and the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, followed by the Chicago Auto Show, the emphasis on the domestic brands shifted back to cars, a segment in which they've been steadily loosing market share. The response from the transplanted competition was to show their intentions of competing in a significant way in the truck market.
The most immediate challenge to the domestic dominance of the segment is Honda's debut and near simultaneous announcement of production in 2005 of its SUT concept at this year's NAIAS. At the same show, Mitsubishi debuted a wild sport truck concept that, in our opinion, shows the company is looking to make a run through the hole opened by the Nissan Titan. Wild, innovative, but most importantly, good styling and performance, are effective methods of attracting youthful action-oriented buyers. The formula seems to be working for the Nissan Titan, so we're hopeful the Mitsubishi will step up and bring something nearly as dramatic as the concept to market.
Toyota, the transplant brand that's quickly becoming as all-American as NASCAR Craftsman Truck Racing, put a huge bid on the fullsize truck market in the form of its FTX concept. The company was soundly criticized for its weak execution of its first fullsize truck, the T100, impressed with the Tundra, and now seemed hell-bent on securing a spot in the minds of heavy-duty users with the FTX concept.
These concepts show some daring by the designers at Toyota and Mitsubishi, and for the most part, the designs have received favorable responses from the staff. Be sure to take a look at Range Rover's first effort at a concept truck. It's got some cool ideas and a very sporting presence. It might be pushing a little too far to the tall wagon/crossover side, but the styling elements and choices work.
As far as Honda's production announcement, we're sure it'll connect with traditional Honda Pilot buyers. Crew-style pickups are the hottest segment in the truck market, so it has momentum. As always, it'll be interesting to see how much traction the production trucks will get in the real world, if and when they bring them to market.
On the production front, the factories have shown a few '05 production models at each of the shows. Although we've shown several of the new pickups in earlier issues of ST, we've gathered all the more interesting '05 offerings right here. One trend that's as hot as a header tube after a quarter-mile run is the power-packed midsize sport trucks coming on the line. Toyota's X-runner really put the pedal to the metal, but the new Nissan Frontier and Pathfinder are packing heat as well. Of course the new Dodge Dakota with its V-8 power is also a contender. It's getting very, very interesting in this segment of the truck market.