Doug Scott, Ford truck marketing manager, says Ford understands dealer concerns and is keeping an eye on the segment. "There is a market for what we would consider a true compact, a truck that is significantly smaller and more affordable and has significantly better fuel economy than what you find in the full-size truck category.
"I would argue there aren't any true compacts in the market today," he says. "The challenge is to deliver that product with a good business case." He said Ford continues to evaluate the market.
Ford introduced a global Ranger pickup in 2011, the same year the U.S. Ranger went away. The pickup was developed overseas, is built in Thailand, and is sold in 188 markets -- but not the United States. Ford has no plans to bring it to the United States and has told dealers that for now it will stick with its strategy of selling just the F-150 pickup.
"The global Ranger is 90 percent of the size of an F-150," says a Ford spokesman. "It's a big truck."
In January, 23 percent of customers who traded in a Ranger for a new Ford chose F-150s, he says. Ford maintains that F-150s with a V-6 get better fuel economy than most small pickups. F-150s equipped with V-6 engines, rather than V-8s, accounted for 53 percent of the 2012 sales total, a rate that exceeded Ford's expectations.
A 2013 F-150 XL Super Crew, powered by a 3.7-liter V-6, matches the 19 combined mpg rating of the 4.0-liter V-6 2013 Toyota Tacoma small pickup, according to Edmunds.com. But the 2013 four-cylinder Tacoma gets 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
Ford dealers are interested in the global Ranger's diesel engine lineup, which includes a 3.2-liter five-cylinder and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder.
The 3.2-liter, used in the Transit commercial van to be sold in North America, is on some dealers' wish list for the F-150.
When Ford abandoned compact pickups in 2011, it enjoyed roughly a 25 percent share of a shrinking segment. In 2012, compact pickup sales totaled 264,197 units, down from 1.2 million in 1994, when Ford led the segment with 344,744 Ranger sales.
With the departure of Ford and Dodge in 2011, Toyota and General Motors were left as the last major players offering small pickups. The Tacoma's already dominant share of the segment shot up from 38 percent in 2011 to 54 percent in 2012.
GM stopped building the compact Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon last August, and a redesigned compact pickup is expected next year.
Tom Libby, automotive forecast analyst for Polk, says there's every chance the segment could rebound, leading Ford to jump in again.
"The entire industry is moving down in terms of size. The segments that are losing share have been the segments that have big vehicles: large SUVs and full-size luxury cars, for example," he says. "If that trend continues, and it will because of CAFE, that segment could level off and begin to gain."