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The always-future Dodge Dakota pickup truck

What happened to the compact/midsized pickup truck that was rumored in 2004, and was on the 2010 and 2012 plans?

The first Dodge Dakota was launched in 1987, bringing decent sales; from 1992 onwards, the truck steadily sold over 100,000 copies per year, particularly when the bigger 1997-2004 Dodge Dakota hit the road. The 2005 Dodge Dakota was even bigger, apparently too big; sales suddenly started to slide, and Dodge stopped production a few years later - but planned to start over again.

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In August 2007, a spokesman told Allpar that Dodge wanted to move the Dakota back to being a lifestyle vehicle, and had been discussing different features, size, and other aspects of the pickup with customers. The company already had a design in mind when he said that.

According to reliable source RedRiderBob, Dodge was already "full-bore into development" of the "lifestyle pickup" in 2008; at the time of the 2008 Dakota's launch, they were already hard at work on its replacement (or a supplement), a four-door pickup based on the rear-wheel-drive big car platform - the 300C/Charger base. It was slated for launch around 2011-2012, and was to be made in Sterling Heights. It was in the cost-analysis phase, where the engineers' designs are priced out, when it was dropped in the midst of bankruptcy.

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The term "lifestyle truck" brings up images of Honda Ridgelines, but Dodge likely meant something closer to the original Dakota or (Mitsubishi L-200 based D50). Most small pickup buyers, according to research, don't try to tow yachts or heavy trailers, or load up the bed with gravel and I-beams; they buy pickups for the image, for hauling moderately heavy items, or doing moderate towing. The new truck would have been able to do that, and still fit in the average garage.

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In 2010, the Windsor Star claimed that plant workers confirmed two new trucks to be built at the Windsor, Ontario plant. Nothing ever came of this, other than rumors of minivan-based Ridgeline clones. This seemed to be confirmed by a 2011 Sergio Marchionne statement to Ward's Auto World; he agreed that a low-volume truck (around 30,000/year) would be built in Windsor if it was compatible with the next-generation minivan platform.

Next, Ram chief Fred Diaz told Allpar that "We are heavily, heavily, heavily exploring the possibility of bringing a mid-sized truck to the market." A new Ram was also slotted for calendar year 2016 on the four-year-plan, along with a new Fiat truck to be imported from the United States. Then, out of nowhere, in mid-2013, Reid Bigland said there would be no new Dakota.

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The final development. Short of cash and people for new-car development, Fiat Chrysler bought the rights to sell Mitsubishi's L200 pickup trucks - the same pickups once sold as the Dodge D-50 and Ram 50. The L200 is dubbed Fiat Fullback in most markets, and Ram in parts of the Middle East and Mexico. (There is also a Ram 700, which is a rebadged Fiat Strada pickup unlikely to make it into the US.)

The Strada doesn't really fit the bill, in terms of capability; nor does the L200 project seem like a viable long-term option, with an ambitious Nissan having bought heavily into Mitsubishi. What does the future hold? It's possible that the company is already weighing its options, trying to figure out how to create a midsize, global pickup, not to mention where to build it. For the moment, Mitsubishi is building pickups for Fiat and Ram - but that doesn't seem to fit the Ram International plan. Perhaps Auburn Hills will once again be home of the future Dodge / Ram Dakota?

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Reviews: Sport (2000) • Dodge Dakota (2006) • 2008


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