Toyota dealers: Room in lineup for a Ford Maverick fighter

The comparison is not lost on Steve Gates, the current chairman of the Toyota National Dealer Council, and dealer principal of Gates Auto Family, a group of 11 rooftops in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana that includes three Toyota stores as well as a Ford store. An unabashed Toyota fan — Gates has been selling Toyotas in Kentucky since he was 18 — he’s been asking for a compact Toyota pickup “since back in the Jim Press days,” he said, referring to the longtime brand executive who left the company in 2007. And now that Gates has seen what Maverick has done at his own Ford store, he’s even more convinced.

“We’re absolutely sold out of Maverick, and we’re sold out as far as we can possibly see, and it hasn’t affected Ranger or F-150 one bit,” Gates said. “The quality small truck is Toyota’s DNA. We hear all the time, several times a week, stories of people who had older Toyota trucks, before those trucks even had a name, and they long for another small Toyota truck. I think the volume opportunity is huge, without affecting Tacoma and Tundra sales.”

Gates said he and other members of the dealer council’s product committee have made the request formally.

Toyota’s first pickup in the U.S. was the Toyota Stout in the mid-1960s. For 20 years, all of its small pickups had single-row seating, usually a bench seat, and a small bed. It wasn’t until the fifth-generation Toyota pickup debuted in 1989 that the brand offered any storage or seating room behind the front row seats.

Danny Wilson, dealer principal at Wilson Toyota of Ames in Iowa, who preceded Gates as dealer council chairman, said a unibody compact pickup would be a “great play on the heritage of Toyota” as well as giving dealers another product to sell.

“The small pickup truck? That’s where things started for Toyota,” said Wilson, who’s also on the product committee.

“I think that would be kind of a cool mindset. It’s always worked well when we’ve gone back to our roots. What we think is old, the next generation thinks is new and cool.”

Wilson cautioned, however, that such a truck would have to be updated. “There’s got to be a little bit of utility to it; it can’t be just a two-seater with a bed.”

He said Toyota’s platform strategy would allow for additional flexibility that wasn’t there historically.

“I think with the new platforms and the way they’re doing production, with the way it’s set up, they can turn the faucet up and down to get it where it needs to be from a manufacturing standpoint,” if it’s on the same platform as the Corolla sedan and Corolla Cross crossover.

Christ acknowledged that Toyota’s dealers have been asking for a compact pickup for a while, and that fielding such a product would potentially assist Toyota’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy metrics.

“If you can find a way to build a higher fuel efficiency pickup truck, that’s certainly something that helps with the regulatory need,” Christ said. “Could there be an opportunity there? I’m sure the market exists because Maverick’s done reasonably well.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s happening.

“We don’t have anything planned,” Christ said. “We’re not announcing anything to the dealers. I won’t even say ‘yet’ because that would suggest it’s coming. But certainly, it’s something we’ve looked at.”

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