In the United States the pickup truck is of enduring popularity - the Ford F-150, in particular, has been the best-selling vehicle in the States for 23 years. In southern Thailand, too, the general populace can’t seem to get enough of the pickup truck. In Malaysia, however, it’s something of a fad amongst urbanites. Each new model becomes all the rage, but after a few months, sales taper off again.
Ford Malaysia started this trend in the late nineties with the Ranger which was the first to come with creature comforts and good looks. Before this the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Courier were merely utility vehicles for people who carry around heavy tools and machinery. The Ford Ranger was a hit with urbanites who wanted to distinguish themselves from their peers - notwithstanding the fact that pickup trucks are particularly unsuited to congested Klang Valley roads and crowded shopping mall car parks. Not long after, Mitsubishi sent its L200 to finishing school and christened it the Storm, and the Ranger had a formidable rival, at least in terms of market share.
Isuzu which has traditionally been strong in the trucking segment didn’t enjoy the same fortune, however, with its Rodeo. Toyota, on the other hand, seemed intent on ignoring this new trend amongst Malaysian drivers and continued positioning the Hilux as the most durable pickup truck on the planet for true offroaders. And thus the Ranger and the Storm dominated the scene for a few more years, albeit at a slower pace.
Almost a decade after the introduction of the Ranger, there was suddenly a bit more variety, and thus, renewed interest - Nissan launched the Frontier, Toyota made the Hilux more agreeable to city slickers, and Mitsubishi came up with a radical new design in the form of the Triton. Also, Isuzu finally vindicated its existence with the second-generation D-Max, after thoroughly flat sales of the first generation despite heavy advertising. Interestingly, the Mitsubishi Storm was reintroduced to the market shorn of make-up as the “normal” L200, which only served to highlight the fact that the Storm was but a dolled-up utility vehicle. I could only hope that current owners of the previously-hot Mitsubishi aren’t feeling too slighted at this demotion.
The novelty seems to have worn off yet again, and there doesn’t seem to be any Rangers, Frontiers or Tritons with new license plates on the road. The Hilux has gone back to being the perennial but low-key favourite with builders and lumberjacks, whilst the D-Max seems to have found its niche as an alternative to the Toyota. I suppose it might be possible that Malaysians have regained their common sense and are going for practicality: the rising popularity of MPVs such as the Citra, the Avanza, the Grand Livina and the Exora - and for the more well-heeled, the Innova, the Stream, the Odyssey, the Estima and the Alphard - might be testament to this.