Automakers are producing compact pickups with higher content in '99, a Ward's survey of light-truck factory installed equipment trends indicates.

In general, fewer small pickups are being built with manual transmissions and more are coming out of plants with such amenities as antilock brakes (ABS), 4-wheel-drive, air conditioning and power accessories, according to data on '99 model production.

In the Ford Ranger, manual transmission installations have declined to 36% so far in '99, compared to 47.2% for all of '98. Dodge Dakota applications have plunged to 22.5%, from 31.4% and the Nissan Frontier has seen manual installations fall to 47.% from 74.%.

The trend also is evident with the Toyota Tacoma (46.4% vs. 57.2%) and Mazda B-Series pickup (48.9% vs. 58%). That movement could cool by model year's end, if automakers find themselves in a struggle to meet federal fuel economy standards and are forced to produce more manual transmission models.

Ford Motor Co. has pumped up Ranger content in other areas, as well. Four-wheel ABS installations have grown to 30.9%, from 11.4%, and 4-wheel-drive (4wd) has crept up to 31.8% from 28.4%. Air conditioning is close to becoming standard (95.1% vs. 86.1% for '98) and power windows and locks have risen nearly six points to 30.1%. Adjustable steering columns and cruise control are up more than four points to roughly 42% of the mix.

It's a similar story with the Dodge Dakota and a few of the import brands. Dakota 4wd installations are up more than 11 points to 38.1%, and the truck has enjoyed a nearly three-point rise in demand for its trailer- towing package.

Power accessories are up almost eight points, and adjustable steering column and cruise control installations have jumped roughly nine and 13 points, respectively.

Four-wheel ABS and 4wd (both at 39%) have been ratcheted up dramatically in the Nissan Frontier, which has seen a 14 point rise in each of those categories. Air conditioning has shot up 13 points (97%). The Toyota Tacoma has seen increased demand for power windows and locks (37.9% vs. 23.6%), as well as adjustable steering columns (77.5% vs. 63.6%) and speed control (54% vs. 38.4%).

The trend toward higher content has been evident in light trucks overall for the last couple of years.