You build inadequate vehicles for 10 to 15 years. When sales fall off, you say the customers or the market have changed.

Then, when the Japanese start grabbing market share, you complain about the undervalued yen.

Sound familiar? It could happen again, this time in small pickup trucks. In 1999, the market was 1.1 million. Last year it was 700,000. This year it will be smaller still. Ford, the sales leader, permanently closed a Ranger plant.

Toyota and Nissan are gaining share, with a combined 32% of sales so far this year against less than 30% a year ago. Honda is gearing up to build next spring what looks like a pickup.

Detroit says its big pickups have taken the business from the small ones. That is possible. But I still say the trouble is small pickups are boring. What happened to the Ranger Splash and Adrenalin, concept trucks shown off a few years ago? They had potential.

Ford was selling 349,000 Rangers in 1999. This year it looks like fewer than 200,000. Ford says there's no reason to spend big bucks improving Ranger because it attracts customers at the market's low-end where there's not much profit. That sounds like running up the white flag.

I remember another bottom feeder at Ford. Good sales, but it was a low-priced, plain car. Then a bright young executive took a chance. He put sexy sheet metal on that frame and a hot interior. Sales ran 400,000 a year, and the money rolled in. The bottom feeder was the Ford Falcon, and the sexy sibling was the Mustang.

Now, General Motors has brought out new small pickups. The Chevrolet S10 is renamed Colorado and the GMC Sonoma now is the Canyon. They aren't setting the market ablaze.

GM has an excuse for its early stumble: terribly slow early production of crew cabs. That's fixed now, and GM expects to push ahead of Ford.

But I see other problems. The new GM pickups are bigger and better than the old ones, but they have no 6-cyl. engine, the towing capacity has been sharply reduced, and the interiors are drab.

My guess: The foreign guys will take share from GM and Ford. Dodge may gain, though, because an improved Dakota is coming this fall.

New competitors always will get some business if they have good products. Toyota and Nissan will sell some big pickup trucks as they increase capacity. Toyota and Honda established early leads in the cross/utility market with strong vehicles, such as the Lexus RX 300/330 and Acura MDX, and in small SUVs with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

They got those leads because Detroit was concentrating on its big pickups and SUVs. Detroit just couldn't cover enough bases, but now it's catching up on CUVs and small SUVS.

What's sad is to see companies lose markets because they decide to build “good enough” instead of “gotta have.” And that could happen with small pickups.

Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and a former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.