Last month, Chrysler revealed the current, third-generation Dodge Dakota would be discontinued in 2011. The move alone would devoid the U.S. market of another pickup truck, but Chrysler will not be writing off the midsize truck segment just yet. Although midsize trucks lack the cachet of their full-size brethren, Chrysler is reportedly looking into developing a new unibody truck for its Ram brand after 2011.
The tall order of developing, marketing, and selling a viable unibody truck follows a familiar formula: smaller engines, better fuel economy, and work capabilities that are somewhat comparable to a half-ton, body-on-frame truck. Past efforts are littered with names like Brat, Comanche, Rabbit, and Rampage, while more recent offerings such as the Subaru Baja and Honda Ridgeline have had difficulty cracking the U.S. truck market. It doesn't help that compact trucks are just plain unpopular compared to the full-sizes, with the larger representing nearly 23 percent of all U.S. vehicle sales. Compact trucks total 5 percent.
Before Chrysler entered bankruptcy earlier this year, it had plans for a smaller unibody truck. Their developmental model centered on a front-drive pickup with all-wheel-drive capabilities, powered by a turbo, four-cylinder engine with direct injection. Without going into specifics, Ram brand boss Fred Diaz said the Dakota replacement would likely not be far off Chrysler's original concept.
"The emphasis is going to be on getting a vehicle that is still true to the Ram brand image and also gets excellent miles per gallon rating and at an attractive price point," Diaz said.
The price point will be a critical aspect of the midsize unibody truck project. The 2010 Dodge Dakota in its most basic extended-cab form starts at $23,495. The 2010 Ram 1500 regular cab with short bed is priced from $21,510, while a Dakota-comparable quad cab touches $25,940, just $2400 more than the smaller truck. If Chrysler wants their Dakota replacement to succeed, the price discrepancy will need to be in favor of their midsize Ram.
With Fiat at Chrysler's helm, Diaz has stated the Italian automaker is a logical place to turn to for ideas and opportunities. Perhaps this new project could be Chrysler's method of introducing a long-time Fiat ally to the U.S. light-duty truck market -- the diesel -- but that is just this writer's pipe dream.