Beyond the 2008 Dodge Dakota: Radical Changes Ahead?
By: Larry Edsall Posted: 02-10-07 14:09 PT
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Reconsidering the mid-size pickup - should Dodge move away from body on frame? Discuss in the PUTC forums.  

CHICAGO – A few minutes before he publicly unveiled the facelift and other changes that will be applied to the 2008 Dodge Dakota, the head of product planning for the Chrysler Group was asked about the future of such mid-size pickups.

“What’s the next generation?” Frank Klegon, executive vice president of product development for the Chrysler Group wondered aloud, giving himself time to formulate his answer to a question he’s heard before, a question that certainly has been much discussed within his own department.

Well, he said, “we’re seeing change,” change in the way such trucks are being used and thus, he added, his product development team is considering changes needed to keep its product relevant in the marketplace. Possibly very significant changes.

For example, Klegon continued, while mid-size pickups such as the Dakota have been and continue to be built on traditional body-on-frame architecture that could be subject to change because many of the people who buy such trucks aren’t using them so much for traditional pickup truck work-related purposes as to meet the needs of their active lifestyles.

Without making any commitments about what the next Dakota may or may not be, Klegon wonders about the appeal of a vehicle that offers a pickup-style bed but also “does other things.”

Though he didn’t list them, it would seem that such “other things” could include a more car-like ride and handling and creature comforts as well as car-like (or at least crossover-like) fuel-economy.

“That,” he added, “has our eye.”

Dodge has been known to shake up the pickup truck market before. Consider the redo of the full-size Ram with its aggressive, semi-style front fenders, or when Dodge bolted from the compact class by making the Dakota a larger and thus mid-size vehicle.

Other automakers responded by making their own compacts larger (well, all but Ford, which basically retreated the still-compact Ranger to fleet sales status).

Mid-sized pickups offered buyers a goodly degree of truck capability but still in a package that could fit in the garage or a standard parking space.

However, mid-size pickups were never more than a nice niche. It’s one thing to enlarge, and quite another to be large, and when it comes to pickup trucks, full-size remains both large and in charge, especially among the domestic automakers, who are much more dependent on their big trucks to generate profit, in part because they don’t have cars that sell in numbers like, say, the Toyota Camry or Honda Civic.

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