With the building trade in the doldrums the economic downturn hit the pick-up market even harder than other commercial vehicle sectors, but by the end of last year the recovery in sales had gathered considerable momentum.

Pick-up registrations shot up 77% to 1751 units year-on-year in December 2010 and finished the year overall 3.4% ahead of 2009 on 19,500.

Mitsubishi’s embodiment of work ethic married to style, the L200, led the way with 6418 sales. Next up was Toyota, which shifted 5190 Hilux units, followed by Nissan, which has raised its game with the new Navarra, of which it sold 3363 examples.

Ford kept plugging away, selling 2274 Rangers as the old model reaches the end of the line before being replaced by an eagerly anticipated new version in early 2012. Isuzu kept its oar in with 2190 Rodeo sales.

Mitsubishi has pioneered breaking pick-ups into the lifestyle market and sales of the L200 are heavily weighted towards double cab and high-spec models such as the Barbarian and Warrior.

A recent innovation on the high-end L200s is the five-speed automatic transmission, which the manufacturer introduced in 2010. The system, which includes manual select, is available on other models as an option for £1275 plus VAT.

As with Mitsubishi’s L200, Toyota said double cab versions dominate sales of the Hilux, which saw volumes increase 24% last year. As well as the boost from a recovering market, a spokesman said the model had been freed from the “supply issues” that held it back in 2009: “It’s by far our most popular commercial vehicle. It’s known for its reliability and durability and has a lot of loyal fans.”
The Hilux will get minor tweaks this year, such as a protective rear bar to stop vehicles going under the tailgate in the event of an accident. The big change is that Euro5-compliant engines will be introduced in the third or fourth quarter of the year.

Maximum power

Another established player in the market, Nissan, facelifted its Navara in 2010.
Outside it acquired new bumpers and bonnet and a revised front grille while inside it got new door bins, switchgear and dials.

More significant changes took place under the bonnet with the 2.5 Euro4 diesel unit given an 11% power boost to 190hp. CO2 emissions were lowered by 40g/km to 224g/km and fuel consumption improved by 4.4mpg to 33.2mpg.

But the big news was the introduction of a 3.0 dCi V6 turbo diesel. Maximum power is 231hp and it develops peak torque of 550nm. It’s Euro5 too.

The largest splash in the pick-up pool this year will almost certainly be made by the arrival of the Volkswagen Amarok. The model is currently on a tour of VW van centres before its launch in the spring.

VW says the Amarok will be available in three trim levels and estimates prices will start at £16,500, rise to £18,500 for the mid-level version and peak at £21,500 for the top-of-the-range model. It will have two 2.0-litre powertrains up for grabs: a twin-turbo 163hp and a single-turbo 122hp unit. It will arrive in double-cab guise but a single-cab derivative could possibly follow.

According to a spokesman, the manufacturer’s UK business is waiting to see if the single-cab workhorse version of the pick-up, which is built in all bodystyles at VW’s plant in Pacheco, Argentina, will be made available for the European market: “We would look to take it but it would only account for a small percentage of sales.”
VW displayed a single-cab Amarok at the Hanover commercial vehicle show last year. At 2205mm its load bed is 650mm longer than that of the double cab, and VW claims it will take two Euro pallets with 60cm to spare.

But it is the double cab that will have the established players nervously looking over their shoulders. Supply issues and the slump in the pick-up market caused VW to delay the Amarok’s launch from September 2010, but it is now more confident of success.

“We’re in a 100% better place than we were in September,” says the brand’s UK CV boss Simon Elliott.

VW claims the Amarok double cab features the largest load dimensions in its class with a load area of 2.52sq/m (1555mm long, 1620mm wide and 1222 mm between the wheel arches).

All models include electronic differential lock, ESP anti-skid control with hill-hold assist, hill-descent control and off-road ABS.
Moving on to 2012 and another keenly anticipated heavyweight contender will muscle in on the action, the new Ford Ranger.

And even the Amarok may reach for the smelling salts when the Blue Oval’s swaggering challenger hits town. With bold new styling and a spruced-up interior, the new Ranger marks a sea-change from its utilitarian predecessor.
Ford has not revealed UK specifications but globally there will be four cab options, two- and four-wheel drive versions and six-speed manual or auto transmissions. Two diesel engines are likely to come to the UK: the 150hp 2.2-litre and the 200hp 3.0-litre. The double cab’s cargo area will be 104mm wider than before at 1560mm, and 1549mm long by 511mm high. Ford also promises a payload of up to 1500kg on some models.

Ford of Europe boss Stephen Odell said: “The new Ranger is an exciting and dynamic vehicle that will raise the bar in the company pick-up market.”

Next year could also see Mazda return to the UK pick-up sector with a new BT-50. The brand revealed its new model, which, like its Ranger sibling, will target the lifestyle market, at the Australian motor show in October 2010. The model has since gone on sale in Thailand but will require a different homologation for the European market.

Used demand

According to values expert Glass’s, the used market is strong for pick-ups in good condition and supported by warranted miles and a service history.
Commercial vehicle editor Andy Picton says buyers tend to shy away from examples needing work because 4×4 repairs do not come cheap, so the key is to get hold of good-quality stock.

“The lifestyle models command the most attention, but all models will gain admirers if the quality  criteria is met,” Picton says.

“All marques and models are desirable, but at auctions of late the Hilux, Isuzu Rodeo and L200 have been selling well into Guide, with plenty of interest for the Ranger and Navara as well.”