General Motors’ plan a for next-generation small pickup in the U.S. appears timely.

Confirmation this week that a new Chevrolet Colorado is en route not only marks the bow-tie brand’s centennial, it comes as the auto maker’s crosstown competitors are exiting the segment.

Production of the U.S.-market Ford Ranger and Chrysler’s Ram Dakota are slated to end this year. Will those customers migrate to Chevrolet?

“I like my odds,” says Mike Rzadzki, general sales manager at Mike Anderson Chevrolet in Chicago. “There have been an awful lot of people coming in who want to buy American.”

But data compiled by an Internet analytics firm suggests consumers who tend to favor the Ranger, the segment’s No.2 seller, are looking elsewhere.

“They have, in the last year or so, focused on the Tacoma,” says Dennis Bulgarelli, director-automotive at Boston-based Compete, which tracks the behavior patterns of online shoppers.

The Toyota Tacoma leads the U.S. in Small Pickup sales, according to WardsAuto segmentation.

Through September, sales totaled 78,654, according to WardsAuto data. The Ranger trailed by nearly 30,000 units, followed by the Nissan Frontier, Colorado, Dakota and Honda Ridgeline – none of which accounted for more than 38,000 deliveries.

GM does not reveal U.S.-market launch timing for the next-gen Colorado, which is based on a new global midsize truck platform. But the auto maker has said it will produce the current pickup through model-year ’12.

Ford is abandoning the segment in the U.S., while launching a redesigned Ranger overseas. And Chrysler’s plans for a Dakota replacement are fuzzy as tentative plans for a 2011 launch have been scrapped.

Ram President and CEO Fred Diaz said recently the auto maker continues to evaluate the benefits and shortcomings of various potential platforms – from the underpinnings of Chrysler’s next-generation minivan to the bones that shoulder the Fiat Strada mini-truck in foreign markets.

For however long Chrysler stays out of the segment, it could boost GM’s fortunes. Consumers who favor the Dakota prefer the Colorado as their second choice, followed by the Frontier and then the Ranger, Bulgarelli tells WardsAuto.

With its plans for a next-gen U.S.-market Colorado, GM is betting on a segment in decline. Though sales were tracking 8.8% ahead of like-2010 through third-quarter, they trailed historic levels by a wide margin.

In 2001, small pickups accounted for some 900,000 deliveries in the U.S. Last year, they totaled just over 265,000.

Against this backdrop, fullsize pickup demand was solid from 2001 through 2007, after which came a 2-year slide as the global economy faltered. Since 2009, sales have ticked up sharply.

A shrinking price differential between the segments has been blamed for closing the gap. For this reason, Rzadzki says, the new Colorado “had better be aggressively priced.”

Launching now in Thailand, GM’s next-gen small pickup was engineered and designed by GM do Brasil. Matt Noone and Dagoberto Trivia get credit for the exterior and interior styling, respectively, the auto maker says.

Designers and engineers “immersed themselves in the highly competitive truck market and observed how the Thai people use their vehicles and the driving conditions they experience,” Global Vehicle Line Executive Brad Merkel says in a statement.

“A similar development process will precede the launch of the truck in the U.S. market.”

The Thai market lineup will see 2-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-drive models in regular, extended- and crew-cab models. Thai consumers can choose from two inline 4-cyl. turbodiesel engines: a standard 150-hp 2.5L and an optional 180-hp 2.8L.

GM does not tip its hand about U.S.-market powertrain choices, nor does it confirm a production site. But based on language contained in GM’s newly ratified labor agreement with the United Auto Workers union, production appears destined for the auto maker’s plant in Wentzville, MO.