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Chrysler revealed its hand a year ago when it unveiled the redesigned 2002 Dodge Ram, essentially a bigger, brassier version of the barrel-nosed model that virtually quadrupled the brand's full-size truck sales overnight. Apparently not wanting to tamper much with success, the company's designers spent hundreds of millions of dollars creating a brand-new truck that doesn't look a lot different from the old truck. Nor do the new 2003 heavy-duty models that were just unveiled in Chicago and go on sale this fall.

For better or worse, Chrysler won't be able to afford to redesign its big pickups again before 2007-08, at the earliest, so Dodge dealers are going to be stuck for at least five more years with this distinctive design, which already looks a bit long in the tooth.

Toyota continues to nibble away at Detroit's flanks with its full-size Tundra, a well-built if somewhat conservatively styled model that would present a serious challenge to the domestic brands, if the Japanese automaker would only commit the funds for a significant increase in production capacity. In the meantime, it teased customers and competitors in Chicago with a peek at a new Tundra stepside model that goes on sale in early 2003.

Nissan has kept quiet in recent months about its full-size truck plans, but construction progresses on the company's $1 billion assembly plant in Canton, Miss., while development work continues in Japan on the big pickup it will launch in late 2003 as a 2004 model. Two details are known about the truck that is still known only by its code name, ZW: it will feature a potent DOHC 4.5-liter V-8 engine, and it won't look a bit like the alpha T concept that was displayed at the 2001 Detroit show.
And what of the number- two Japanese automaker, Honda?

Executives have repeatedly told their U.S. dealers that Honda will not have a pickup for sale before 2005. What they haven't disclosed is that the company is looking at two different proposals. Press reports have speculated that the automaker favors a mid-size sport-utility truck, a car-based four-door model that would be based on the next-generation Odyssey platform and would be powered by a version of the 3.5-liter V-6.

But Honda insiders say there is a larger pickup proposal -- a full-size body-on-frame model -- sitting on a back burner, awaiting corporate approval. The proposal calls for production of both two- and four-door variants, with a choice of V-6 and V-8 engines.

The big stumbling block, as with all new models from Honda in recent years, is capacity. There just isn't enough room at any of its four North American plants, including the new facility in Alabama, to build a pickup, and Honda doesn't want to import such an all-American product from Japan. Instead, the company intends to launch the new Pilot and Model X utility vehicles in the next six to twelve months, then continue to fine-tune its production mix and watch the American market closely, waiting for the right opportunity to invest in additional capacity for the pickup.

Given its track record to date with such light-truck products as the Odyssey and the MDX, both of which were relatively late to market, the wait-and-see strategy with the pickup shouldn't hurt Honda's prospects in the long run.

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