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The all-new Chevrolet Colorado makes its debut in Thailand before an upcoming U.S. launch.

When General Motors launches an all-new version of the Chevrolet Colorado in the months ahead it will be bucking conventional wisdom that says small pickups have fallen out of favor with American buyers.

That helps explain why GM took the wraps off the Chevy Colorado in Thailand, a market where demand is still straining manufacturers’ production capacity.  A prototype of the small truck was first unveiled at the Bangkok Motor Show last March.

“This is a vehicle built tough for the people of Thailand, by the people of Thailand,” proclaimed GM Thailand President Martin Apfel, noting that the Asian nation will be just the first market for what he described as “GM’s most significant play in the midsize pickup truck market ever.”

Those in the States who have been eyeing the Colorado don’t need to worry.  It will make its way here in a hurry, with a preview scheduled for next month’s Los Angeles Auto Show.

Will the new Colorado find a U.S. market as many buyers upgrade to full-size models?

The Colorado nameplate first appeared in 2005, so this is the first real update of the small pickup. But it’s a significant one.  The U.S. alone could no longer justify the $2 billion five-year effort, so GM will be selling the new Chevrolet Colorado in more than 60 markets on five continents.  Significantly, the development effort was spearheaded by a development team from GM do Brasil, another market where products in the Colorado class remain popular.

Thailand is one of the world’s biggest markets for such products, and also one of the largest producers of small pickups.  The GM plant in the Bangkok exurb of Rayong is within a rifle shot of competitor Ford’s factory.  That plant earlier this year began rolling out an all-new version of the Ford Ranger.  It’s bigger and much more modern than the old model – the version in the U.S. around so long new buyers might have been just toddling when it first went into production.

The American Ranger has gotten several reprieves, as has the Twin Cities plant in Minnesota, but the truck will soon fall victim to toughened U.S. roof crush safety standards.  But Ford has decided to neither builds the new model in the States nor import it.

“We think buyers will be pleased with our F-Series pickups,” said Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields, insisting that for essentially the same money a customer could get a larger, more lavishly-equipped vehicle.  And with the full-size F-Series now offered with a choice of two gas-stingy V-6s, Ford believes it can minimize concerns over fuel economy.

Chrysler has also seen the writing on the American wall and believes demand for smaller trucks doesn’t justify the investment in new product.  Its Dakota is going away, as well.

That leaves only a handful of products in a once-thriving segment of the U.S. market.  The American version of the new Colorado is expected to offer both better mileage and a more efficient package, with improved safety features and enhanced creature comforts, including more storage space and cupholders, as well as updated infotainment technology.

Honda, meanwhile, has denied recent reports that it would pull out of the market.  Despite sluggish sales of its Ridgeline – which were off 49% last month – the quirky, crossover-based pickup “is here to stay,” pronounced Hondas truck planning chief Sage Marie.  (Click Here for the full story.)

Toyota will stay on board with its Tacoma, even though it has also suffered declining sales, as will Nissan with its Frontier.

Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia have long considered their options in the small truck market but have apparently decided it simply isn’t viable, however.

Some analysts, however, believe that new product is precisely the medicine the small pickup segment needs, so there’ll be a spotlight following the Chevrolet Colorado after its American launch.  And among those closely watching will be Ford, which Fields says could readily bring the new Ranger to the States “if market conditions justify it.”


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