No more Ranger, but Ford has another option for a small pickup

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
Now that Ford has officially announced the demise of the Ranger pickup in North America, the question is, does Ford need a new small pickup in its North American portfolio?

How about something developed on the next-generation Focus platform?

Earlier this week Ford said the Ranger will be dropped sometime next year. No surprise here; we’ve been reporting for years that the Ranger was heading to the graveyard. The Ranger is an old, old pickup.

But the question remains: Is there a market for a small pickup, maybe something unconventional with cool styling aimed at 20-somethings?

One of the stars of the 2008 Detroit show was the stylish Toyota A-BAT pickup concept. The vehicle is about the size of a Toyota Corolla, seats four and has a four-foot cargo box.

Taken A-BAT?

The A-BAT also has a midgate postioned between the rear seats and the cargo box. When the midgate, rear seats and tailgate are lowered, the A-BAT concept has a cargo floor that stretches from the back of the front seats to the tailgate. The concept could haul a 4x8 sheet of plywood.

The Toyota concept was not intended for heavy hauling. It was developed to handle occasional Home Depot building materials, a dirt bike, camping equipment, even a surf board,

The A-BAT was a head-turner -- and it still is. Toyota is still debating whether to produce the vehicle and, if so, whether to position it under the Toyota or Scion brand.

Last decade, Subaru tried the Baja -- a poorly executed, pickuplike vehicle based on the Outback. The Baja has a midgate that lowers. However, the window and frame above it are fixed. The midgate opening measures a mere 12-by-30 inches, greatly limiting functionality. Sales went nowhere, and the vehicle was dropped.

Getting in Focus

Ford has an opportunity.

The automaker is producing several models off the next-generation Focus platform, including a seven-passenger compact minivan called the C-Max. The wheelbase of the 2012 Focus sedan is stretched to create the C-Max, which goes on sale late in 2011.

I’ve seen the C-Max, sat behind the wheel, checked out the interior space in the third row. That platform has the dimensions to create a useful, small, unconventional pickup to woo the youth market.

The bottom line: Ford already has the building blocks in place to create a Focus family pickup.