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New pickup: more Ram 50 than Dakota

by Robert S. Miller on

After Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took the stage to answer the press’ questions during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan; it was clear that there would be a solid history for the truck plant in Saltillo, Mexico.

Rob Heglboom and Ram 1200

However, a new Ram Dakota is not part of it. Instead, there is a new Ram metric pickup to be shared with the Fiat brand, for a global product.

Both Ram and Fiat Professional (Fiat’s truck division) sell metric pickups across the globe. At the moment, with nothing between the lightweight Strada and heavy Ram 1500, both brands sell rebadged versions of the Mitsubishi L200 pickup — the Fiat Fullback and Ram 1200. Ironically, this is a newer version of the Mitsubishi that used to be sold as the Dodge Ram 50.

The future Saltillo-based metric-ton truck is not likely to be sold in the United States or Canada.


“Toughening up” a little Fiat Strada seems highly unlikely.

Mitsubishi seemed like an ideal partner, with a competitive small pickup but limited distribution; but the keiretsu that controlled Mitsubishi has long wanted to jettison the automotive division, starting to sell it to Chrysler in the 1970s, then to Daimler in the 2000s. In September 2017, Mitsubishi joined the Renault-Nissan alliance, putting the gears in overdrive to replace FCA’s L200-based pickups.

Marchionne, had mentioned that a new midsize Dakota was discussed for the NAFTA markets. However, they had yet to make a cost-effective vehicle that would cost less than the Ram 1500; but he said they are still talking about one.

Jeep Scrambler pickup

Insiders say that a new Dakota might be based on the upcoming Jeep pickup (JT), with suspension changes — but built on the same line.

Marchionne did state that the upcoming Jeep truck would be priced  with the Wrangler, which would make it more costly than other mid-size pickups (Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, new Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Nissan Frontier) in North America. This would limit sales, and Marchionne said they would sell fewer than 100,000 Jeep pickups — versus around 300,000 Jeep Wranglers. This leaves plenty of space for another truck to join the Jeep pickup on the assembly line.

Building the Ram 1200 replacement in Mexico was almost inevitable, since the country has favorable trade agreements with Europe and South America, and is close to the Michigan base of FCA US.

The pickup will be a “mostly Ram” design, according to the FCA CEO; that could mean it’s a fresh design, drawing from the Ram 1500 and Jeep pickup, or it could mean it’s based on the ProMaster, which is built in Saltillo. Using the latter would make sense; while front wheel drive would be an unusual choice, the ProMaster excels because of that architecture. There is already a ProMaster chassis cab, as well. This would likely be the fastest way to speed a truck to production.

The timing for a home-grown L200 replacement is just right: the Ram Heavy Duty had to either change plants or go on a six month hiatus for plant renovations, regardless. The logistics of shipping components (other than engines) down to Mexico and getting trucks back, when almost all production is near Michigan, never made much sense, and experienced production mechanics and technicians resisted being sent south of the border.  What’s more, it appears that “buy American” is strongest expressed in pickup purchases. All signs pointed to making heavy duty Rams in Warren, alongside low-volume specialty SUVs.

An FCA-engineered-and-built midsize pickup became inevitable as soon as Nissan and Mitsubishi hooked up; the question now is no longer where it will be made, but how it will be created.

Robert Miller is a long-time Allpar contributor, Mopar enthusiast, and automotive photographer.

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