Ford pulled the plug on the Ranger small pickup in 2011, citing a declining segment as the primary reason.

The auto maker recently launched an all-new, larger Ranger in Asia that is not available in North America. Ford officials argue the new version would be too closely to its bread-and-butter fullsize F-150 pickup in price and size.

The decision to dump the North American Ranger is supported by diminishing small-pickup sales in the U.S., down 6.6% in 2012 compared with prior-year and 14.7% through August, according to WardsAuto data. Fullsize pickups, however, surged 15.8% through August.

Although Ford has no plans to launch a new small pickup in the U.S., it’s not ceding control of segment sales to competitors such as the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma and upcoming new versions of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

Instead, the auto maker has added the ’14 F-150 STX SuperCrew and Sport Package to its lineup, trim levels that it says offer options to “entry-level and value-oriented” consumers.

Even with a base price of less than $30,000, the two new entries don’t come close to the defunct Ranger, which started at more than $18,000 in 2011. But the STX trims are priced lower than most F-150 models, some of which cost more than $50,000.

“What we’ve seen is the pickup market come back and segmentation continue to grow, and it’s growing across the band, but maybe more in mid- to entry-level,” Eric Peterson, F-150 marketing manager, tells WardsAuto. “Customers are looking for value and style, and they want to come back to the market.”

Positioned between the F-150 work truck and the popular XLT models, the STX offerings are stripped down but still come equipped with aluminum wheels, roll-stability control, 1-touch windows and body-color front fascia and grille surrounds.

The trucks come standard with a 3.7L V-6 producing 302 hp and 278 lb.-ft. (377 Nm) of torque or an optional 5.0L V-8 making 350 hp and 380 lb.-ft. (515 Nm) of torque. Neither version will be offered with Ford’s EcoBoost branded turbocharged, direct-injected engines.

“(They are) the right engines to keep affordability,” Peterson says, noting dealers have been asking for lower-priced versions of the F-150 line.

The take rate for the STX trims should be about 10%-20%, he says, predicting retail customers rather than fleet buyers will account for the most sales.

During the height of the global recession, Ford and other auto makers said personal-use buyers had abandoned pickups, leaving the segment to those who needed the vehicles mainly for work. But Peterson says personal-use demand may be returning.

“If you’re buying a truck, you need it, even as the occasional hauler,” he says. “I think pickup buyers (took longer to return to the showroom) because their trucks were holding up fine and they were waiting for the right time to come back.”

bpope@wardsauto.com