Nothing in the auto industry drives product planning like somebody else's success.
The latest example: midsize pickups. The segment, whose U.S. sales between 2000 and 2013 had withered 77 percent, is now undergoing a resurgence in sales and an accompanying product blitz with old and new nameplates.
Just last week, the head of the vans division at Daimler AG told reporters in Germany that the automaker is considering its newly developed Mercedes-Benz X-class midsize pickup for the U.S. market.
"In the past year, the midsized truck market has come back a bit. General Motors is launching a midsized truck. We are watching developments very closely, and we will take a decision at the appropriate time," Mercedes-Benz Vans boss Volker Mornhinweg said. The X class is built for Mercedes-Benz by Nissan Motor Co. in Spain. It is based on the Nissan NP300 Navara and Renault Alaskan. Mornhinweg said a U.S. production site for the pickup was also under consideration.
If the X class is green-lighted for the U.S., by the time it finds its way to U.S. dealerships it is likely to find the competition much stiffer than today.
Sales in the midsize pickup segment have grown 83 percent since its recent nadir in 2013 of 244,834 units, with much of the rebound coming from GM's redesigned Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon. Last year, the GM twins accounted for about a third of the segment's 448,398 sales, but continued to trail the long-running Toyota Tacoma, which has held the segment crown since 2005. The Tacoma took half of the segment's sales in 2015, and 43 percent in 2014.
The Nissan Frontier racked up about 87,000 U.S. sales in 2016, and is expected to be redesigned this year for the 2018 model year. In January, the only other current player, the recently redesigned Honda Ridgeline, was named North American Truck of the Year.
In late 2018, Jeep will enter the segment with a long-awaited pickup based on the Wrangler. And in 2019, Ford will field a competitor in the segment for the first time since 2011 when it brings the Ranger back to the U.S.
Midsize pickups largely fell out of favor with consumers and especially automakers in large part because their prices had come to rival full-size pickups.
But as full-size pickups have continued to grow in size and price, the smaller midsize pickups are getting another look from consumers, says Stephanie Brinley, senior automotive analyst with IHS Markit.
The reason for the product resurgence in the midsize market is "because people are paying for it, and because there's a bit of space for something smaller than a full-size pickup," Brinley explained. "I think there's a limit to the level of growth, though. I do think we'll see a resurgence, but I don't think the segment is going to get back all the way to where it was before."
Reuters contributed to this report.