“I’m ticked off,” a salesman at a suburban Detroit Ford dealership says about Ford’s decision to drop the Ranger compact pickup. “I’ve owned five Rangers over the years and have sold tons of them.”

The last U.S.-spec Ranger rolled off the assembly line last month, and he isn’t the only one who’s upset.

Despite slow sales in recent years, the Ranger still has a lot of fans in the U.S. and Canada.

I’ve had a soft spot for the plucky little truck since I did an in-depth story on the launch of the very first model in 1982. Since then, Ford has sold 7 million Rangers, including 70,832 in 2011, WardsAuto data shows. That’s up 27.9% compared with 2010, a rise likely fueled by buyers grabbing the last ones available.

Ford executives caught flak from some reporters at the recent North American International Auto show in Detroit and other events when they touted a new version of the Ranger that will be built and sold in Thailand, South America and South Africa but downplayed the fact domestic production is ceasing and it will not be offered in the U.S. or Canada.

Discontinuing the Ranger here is a mistake that may come back to sting Ford. It’s another move by CEO Alan Mulally to presumably focus on more profitable vehicles.

In 2007, he dropped the Freestar minivan, deserting the shrinking but still big minivan market, and in 2010 he clipped the wings off Mercury, ending a 71-year run.

Closing the 86-year-old assembly plant in St. Paul, MN, where the Ranger was assembled probably makes sense. But Ford has plenty of capacity in North America where it could have continued to build the truck.

Ford thinks buyers will opt for the much larger F-150 fullsize pickup instead, now that it is available with a fuel-efficient V-6. But Ford is missing the fact that size, perceived fuel economy and price still count with a lot of buyers. That’s why Toyota, Nissan and General Motors are sticking with compact pickups and they likely will benefit from Ford absence. Chrysler killed its midsize Dodge Dakota in August 2011.

According to WardsAuto data, a typically equipped Ranger weighs about 1,000 lbs. (454 kg.) less than the F-150, generally delivers superior mileage and is priced thousands of dollars lower. Ranger stickers started at $17,000 and topped at $26,000, while F-150 prices start at $24,000 and can reach as high as $49,000.

The F-150 is available in a multitude of variations, but can it satisfy buyers seeking a smaller, higher-mileage pickup if fuel prices keep rising? Maybe. But if gas prices soar as high as some analysts predict later this year, Ford no longer will have an alternative. That may prove to be a serious mistake.

David C. Smith is Editor-at-Large forWardsAuto World magazine and is a contributor to WardsAuto.com. Before retiring in 2000, Smith was editor-in-chief of the magazine for more than two decades.