The off-road pickup market is booming.
With the debut of the rugged Jeep Gladiator pickup on Wednesday, the automaker practically synonymous with off-roading and adventure is entering a profitable and fast-growing segment. But it is also an increasingly crowded market and the Gladiator will have to vie for attention with several competitors that can crawl over rocks, drive through rivers and race through the desert.
The pickup market has changed a great deal in recent years as buyers have shifted away from passenger cars and toward sport utility vehicles and trucks. Historically seen as vehicles meant for work or rural life, pickups are now sought by a wide array of buyers looking to haul their family or rough it outdoors.
The change has been particularly noticeable in the fast-growing midsize truck segment. This group of smaller, nimble trucks includes models such as the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma and now the newly revived Ford Ranger.
Sales of midsize trucks have grown every year over the last four years in a row, according to Edmunds, which tracks auto sales. But a considerable share of those sales have gone to pickups outfitted with lifted suspension, skid plates, knobby tires and gearing systems meant for tackling rough terrain, according to Edmunds.
This is giving the midsize pickup a distinct identity from its full-size counterpart as a truck meant for having fun.