Honda will pull the plug on its current-generation Ridgeline compact pickup earlier than expected, according to the most recent WardsAuto/Automotive Compass forecast.

Industry sources say the Ridgeline now is set to end production in September 2014, with a new model not launching until second-quarter 2016.

This is a change from a prior forecast that had the current-generation truck ending its run in spring 2016 and the next-generation model beginning production the following week.

The Ridgeline is built at Honda’s Lincoln, AL, plant alongside other Honda and Acura light trucks, including the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX cross/utility vehicles.

Honda introduced the Ridgeline to the U.S. as an ’06 model in spring 2005.

Ridgeline deliveries mostly have been on a downward trajectory since record volume of 50,193 was achieved in 2006.

Sales of the pickup did grow last year to 14,068 units, a 44.2% rise from 2011 that Honda officials credit to a new Sport grade that debuted for ’12.

With demand for the truck falling sharply from its 2006 high, rumors and reports of the Ridgeline’s imminent departure have been rampant. However, Honda has vigorously denied the vehicle will disappear completely from its U.S. lineup.

The auto maker’s Detroit-based spokesman Steve Kinkade says, “(While) we don't comment on future product decisions, Ridgeline continues to be an important part of our lineup and we're pleased with Ridgeline sales, up 24% year-on-year and 32% in June.”

When the Ridgeline debuted, Honda billed the truck as an “SUT,” or sport/utility truck, partially due to its then-innovative in-bed storage box.

While manufacturers of competing body-on-frame pickups initially decried the Ridgeline because it shared some lineage with the unibody Pilot, MDX and Odyssey minivan, elements of the Ridgeline design later were co-opted by other auto makers, including Chrysler, which has a similar storage box in its Ram fullsize pickup truck.

Additionally, competitors have discussed or shown concepts of unibody small trucks, believing such models could be a way to reignite the drastically declining segment.

WardsAutodata shows small-pickup sales fell from a record 1,462,543 units in 1986 to 278,265 last year.

Pricing that approaches or is on par with that of fullsize pickups has been blamed for the decline in compact-truck volume. Many manufacturers already have abandoned the segment in the U.S., including Dodge (Dakota) and Ford (Ranger). General Motors also has been absent in recent years but will roll out new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models in early 2014.

While the Detroit Three used to rule the compact-truck segment much as they do fullsize pickups, Toyota’s Tacoma has led Ward’s Small Pickup group since 2005.

Tacoma deliveries in 2012 tallied 141,365, a 27.7% increase from 2011 and nearly 90,000 units ahead of Nissan’s Frontier, the No.2-selling compact pickup last year.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com