The 2016 Dodge Dakota pickup truck
2014 update: the truck has been shelved again, despite appearing on 2010 and 2012 long-term plans. Fiat will be selling a Mitsubishi pickup instead.
The first Dodge Dakota was launched in 1987, using a four cylinder base engine, with an optional V6. The second generation was the somewhat bigger, more popular 1997-2004 Dodge Dakota. The next Dakota, though, was even bigger; the base price shot up and buyers complained that it wasn't much cheaper than the Ram 1500 (indeed, it often ended up costing more), and the styling and “cheap” interior were unpopular. The Dakota’s sales fell sharply, and the company dropped the line after 20 years of sales.
As far back as a press event in August 2007, though, the company was planning a new, more svelte Dodge Dakota. Credible sources have raised numerous possibilities, including making a vehicle on the minivan chassis, but it now appears that the company is looking at using a modified 2014 Cherokee body atop a simpler, cheaper suspension to create a pickup that would be popular in South America, Brazil, North America, and possibly even Asia.
According to Ram chief Fred Diaz, speaking with Allpar at the New York Auto Show in March 2013, Ram is still exploring the possibility of selling a mid-sized pickup. There is a new Ram on the Chrysler four-year-plan, slotted for calendar-year 2016, and a new Fiat truck to be imported from the United States on the Fiat five-year plan, also slotted for 2016.
Mr. Diaz said:
We are heavily, heavily, heavily exploring the possibility of bringing a mid-sized truck to the market. It’s a very small market here in the United States, so you have to decide whether or not you’re going to play in that small market and be able to dominate that small market enough to where you can build a business case that makes it worth going there, or you’ve got to decide that you’re going to bring a vehicle that’s so new, so unconventional, so styled right, good mileage, and just the right amount of capability, that you’re actually going to grow that market.
You’ve seen Ford get out of that market; Chevy’s gotten out of that market; we’ve gotten out of that market. So it’s basically Toyota and Nissan that have that market all to themselves right now. For them, it’s probably a lucrative business case because it’s just two players.
So we’re looking at many, many different things. We have a plethora of things that we can look at because of our partnership with Fiat, and we’re even looking at okay, if we want to build a truck like this, there’s also a need for a truck that’s similar in size but is metric-ton capable from a payload standpoint.
For 2014: the Dodge Dakota “lifestyle truck”
At a press event in August 2007, we asked the truck-platform PR manager about the future of the Dakota, which had just gotten bigger. He said they wanted to move the Dakota to being a lifestyle vehicle, and had been discussing different features, size, and other aspects of the Dakota with customers.
The term “lifestyle truck” brings up images of El Caminos, but Dodge probably simply meant a vehicle with capabilities closer to the Ranger or the original Dakota; or something that had the same form and footprint as the original Dakota, but much lower cargo capacity. Most small pickup buyers, according to research out there, don't try to tow yachts or heavy trailers, or load up the bed with gravel and I-beams; a lot of people buy pickups for the image, and others need the form factor for hauling moderately heavy items, or doing moderate towing.
Since then, confirmation has repeatedly come in over the years (with pundits frequently treating the idea as brand new or a change). However, it seemed clear then that Dodge knew the Dakota had become too pricey and heavy. Put a Japanese brand on it, and the Dakota could have sold as a full size, like the T100.
The question presumably then became what the solution was. They could move the Dakota to the Jeep Wrangler platform, and some believe the Jeep Scrambler was an exercise in doing that. The Wrangler was one of three body on frame trucks still made by Chrysler, the other two being the Ram and Dakota itself; but the Wrangler was closer in size to the desired goal. Unfortunately, Wranglers, being engineered to take a pounding on off-road courses, are much heavier than the new pickup would be. In September 2011, a statement issued forth that a Jeep pickup would still be three or four years away.
We heard rumors in April 2011 that, due to a temporary manpower shortage, the next generation Dakota and next generation minivans were being engineered by contract workers, hired by an outside agency but working at the CTC. According to these reports, the Dakota will ride on a minivan platform. That does not mean the Dakota will be unable to tow or haul, or have stow and go seats, or rely on front wheel drive. A platform is a set of dimensions, not a set of parts. Fred Diaz said (essentially in these words) that the Dakota would still be able to tow; it just won’t be able to tow your house.
6/10/2013 update. Reid Bigland said there would be no new Dakota. It is possible that Mr. Bigland did not mean to imply that there was no upcoming compact Ram, but that a technical replacement for Dakota — a mid-sized Ram — is not on the schedule, but a compact truck not named Dakota — could still be there.
4/20/10 update. The Windsor Star asked plant workers about the Dakota and received confirmation that two new trucks would be built at the Windsor, Ontario plant. One appears to be the Dakota (or Dakota replacement); one appears to be a larger van — which could mean something based on the Fiat Ducato, or could mean an extended-wheelbase version of the Caravan itself, designed to be a lighter, nimbler version of the vans commonly used by hotels, schools, churches, and rental car companies; fitting one more row could increase capacity to 11 passengers, including a front passenger. It might just be a Ram Cargo Van.
9/27/11 update. Sergio Marchionne told Ward’s Auto World that the truck would only be built in Windsor if it was compatible with the next-generation minivan platform (which does not necessarily mean it is not part of the “E-EVO” project, sharing key engineering attributes with minivans and large cars); otherwise it would be built at a different plant and possibly on a different platform. Projected sales appear to be around 30,000 units.
According to Ram CEO Fred Diaz, the same people tended to cross shop both compact and midsized trucks, including Ranger, Tacoma, Ridgeline, and Dakota. He said the new Dakota would be badged Ram Dakota, and would be:
... capable, but not as capable as a full size Ram. People want to be able to take cargo, with a reasonable payload, and people, with high mpg, reasonably priced. The Dakota is so capable, pricing bumps against the light duty [Ram 1500]. We don't want confusion.
The Dakota should be worthwhile to develop; most years a Dakota was available (and every year from 1992 to 2005), it sold over 100,000 units per year. Only in the last three years has the Dakota been unable to reach 60,000 units per year.