The established order of the pick-up sector is heading for a shake-up with Mitsubishi, at long last, possibly finding its position at the top of the tree coming under threat.
The Japanese brand seized the initiative in the sector with a variety of high-spec versions of its L200, all bearing macho monikers such as Barbarian, Trojan, Warrior and Raging Bull. These found favour in the lifestyle sector, providing protection in terms of sales when the bottom fell out of the traditional workhorse pick-up market, the building trade, with the onset of the recession.
But this year has already seen the long-awaited return of VW to the sector, with its double cab Amarok, and in 2012 another heavyweight, Ford, will launch its new Ranger – the model that had punters hot-footing it to the Blue Oval brand’s stand at the Commercial Vehicle Show in April.
VW’s Amarok has already garnered rave reviews for its build quality, ride and handling on and off-road, and fuel economy since its launch in May. The model is available in three trim levels: Startline, Trendline and Highline, with prices stepping up from £16,995, to £18,995 and onto £21,575 for the flagship.
The 2.0-litre TDI common rail diesel used across the brand’s CV line-up powers the Amarok in either 122hp or 163hp guises. With emissions of 199g/km, VW claims the most frugal model is the first pick-up to break the sub-200g/km barrier.
The vehicle is currently on offer solely as a 4×4, four-door, five-seater double cab with a choice of permanent or selectable four-wheel drive, although a single cab version could be added later.
The fit and finish in the cabin may be par for the course for VW but raise the bar in the pick-up sector beyond even the reach of the Nissan Navara. The load bay also beats double cab rivals with a Euro pallet slotting in between the wheel arches.
The Amarok has laid down the gauntlet to the Ford Ranger, which will go on sale in the UK early next year but bears little resemblance to its rough and ready predecessor. The manufacturer promises “car-like comfort, reduced steering effort, more precise handling” from the newcomer. Three bodystyles and both two- and four-wheel drive models will make up the line-up, with 150hp 2.2-litre and 200hp 3.2-litre diesel engines up for grabs. Ford is also claiming a class-leading towing capacity of 3350kg and a payload of 1333kg (compared with the Amarok’s 1108kg on the 163hp 4Motion). The brand says the inclusion of side curtain airbags on all cab styles marks a first in the sector. Six-speed manual and auto transmission will be offered.
The new arrivals from VW and Ford will put pressure on the Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux, currently the L200’s closest challengers in sales terms.
Nissan spruced up the Navara last year. Power was boosted and CO2 lowered, but the big news was the introduction of the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel unit, boasting maximum power of 231hp and peak torque of 550Nm. And it meets Euro5 emissions regulations too. On the downside, it’s also considerably more expensive than most of its rivals. Impressive and accomplished though the Navara Outlaw V6 is, it will set you back £29,380. In contrast, the Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian is priced at £28,064, and all other brands aren’t higher than the early £20,000s.
Toyota benefited from better supply of its Hilux last year and consequently saw sales rise 24% to 5190 units, 1200 or so behind the L200. The brand has restyled the Hilux for the 2012 model year, which means it gets Euro5 engines from October thanks to the introduction of a diesel particulate filter. Prices for the revamped line-up start at £15,255 excluding VAT (£16,090 OTR) for the 2.5-litre HL2 4WD single cab version and go up to £20,655 (£21,490 OTR) for the Invincible 4WD 3.0-litre automatic double cab.
Toyota claims the 2.5-litre double cab HL2 and HL3 models will achieve lowest in class CO2 emissions of 194g/km with fuel consumption improved by 10% to 38.7mpg.
The Hilux has been re-styled from the A-pillar forward. It also sports new wheel designs while the flagship Invincible gets new side bars and steps. Toyota has spruced up the interior too with a new upper dashboard design and horizontal instrument cluster.
The revised layout incorporates the new Toyota Touch multimedia unit with a colour touchscreen, Bluetooth, rear-view camera and USB port. The Touch package comes as standard on the HL3 and Invincible derivatives.
As well as single and double cab versions, the 2012 Hilux is also available in Extra Cab guise.
Apart from the leading players, a raft of smaller pick-up makers are busy carving out niches for themselves in the sector.
Isuzu has eschewed the top end of the market and is unashamedly promoting its Rodeo as the toughest workhorse in the segment. General manager William Brown says: “We are aimed at the CV sector not the lifestyle sector. Our vehicle is robust, it does what it says in the tin.”
According to Isuzu’s UK boss Paul Tunnicliffe, the brand is trying to “eke out” supply of the current model before the new one arrives towards the end of the first quarter next year.
“There is a slight worry about how much stock we will have,” he admits. He says the new Rodeo will offer base models in 4×4 King and double cab formats as well as the 4×2 single cab available now.
Rodeo sales doubled in 2010 to 2200 and Isuzu has grown its dealer network to 90 sites to cope with the extra volume. Sales in June 2011 were up 32% year-on-year.
Chinese manufacturer Great Wall is to introduce its double cab Steed pick-up to the UK in October, with the vehicle aimed at small business users. Powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine, it is expected to undercut other pick-ups on the market.
Paul Hegarty, who heads up Great Wall in the UK, explains: “Great Wall’s aim is to be the Chinese equivalent to Toyota. The quality is much higher than people expect. The pick-up will appeal to small business customers. It’s easy to put into that market. We could come in at a price that will take sales away from some of our rival’s second-hand vehicles.”
The current lowest-priced entrant pick-up is the Isuzu Rodeo, starting at £11,934 excluding VAT.
Korean brand Ssangyong is to show its new market-ready pick-up, based on the SUT1 concept, at September’s Frankfurt motor show and expects it to arrive in the UK early next year. The production version is expected to come in double cab format with a 1.0-tonne payload and be powered by a 155hp 2.0-litre diesel engine.
Unlike budget rivals, Ssangyong is to target its vehicle at the lifestyle market. The concept featured a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, ESP anti-skid control and a sunroof.

Sales watch

Sales of new pick-ups increased by almost 18% year-on-year in June to 2121 units and were up by 43.5% to 14,196 in the first half of the year, according to the SMMT. However, the state of play in the used sector doesn’t look so clever with values hit by “a dramatic fall in retail demand”, according to CAP’s LCV editor Ken Brown. Glass’s Guide says lifestyle models have come under pressure when not in mint condition.