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“The production vehicle will have more of a conventional rear end,” says Plavetich. “But we see in the future pickup trucks getting more sophisticated suspensions.”

The 2005 Dakota will come out a year earlier than the Mitsu pickup but both will be built in Warren, Michigan. Based on the production model shown at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show, the new Dakota will offer three engines—including a 4.7-liter V8 with more than 250 horsepower—and seven inches wider than the current Chevy Colorado.

“Our truck will be big and massive in a different way,” explains exterior designer Gary Ragle about the imposing front end. “We’ll have a snarling, sports car look. This truck needs to breathe, meaning it has lots of horsepower.”

Besides adding brawn to the front end, the wide cross bars act as dual bumpers. The top one fends off larger vehicles while the lower one mates up better with small cars should be there be a collision.

The more exciting design exercises won’t carry over to the production model. Mitsu will offer various trims and cab configurations, just like a normal pickup line. We’re not even sure the integrated bed style is going to reach production.

“From a design them standpoint, there’ll be a lot of similarities,” says Plavetich. “From a construction standpoint, the El Camino thing won’t be there.”

So maybe we can expect the racing helmet-inspired wrap-around windshield, but the multi-functional, electronically operated tailgate won’t. This tailgate has four positions:

  • Up and closed as normal
  • Semi-retracted that is shorter to reduce lift-over height and offer more convenient storage of long items such as surfboards
  • Open in the traditional manner to increase bed-floor length
  • Fully retracted under the bed for open access to the cargo area

Even neater is the rear seat. In the normal position, the rear seat is integrated with the rear bulkhead and there is a flip-down window from the roof to seal the cabin. Open the window and the seat can be flipped back into the bed as an open-air jump seat. The rear window then becomes an annoying but effective windshield for the rear passengers who now have considerably more legroom.

“It’s almost like a loft apartment in there with contemporary lines and plenty of living space,” says Plavetich of the interior.

Other innovations unlikely to make production include:

  • A rope LED lighting system that circles the headliner and can change colors to match the mood of the passengers
  • Transparent side mirror housings
  • Unique headlamps and taillamps
  • Floating dash
  • 22-inch wheels
  • Paddle shifter on the steering column

But Mitsubishi is going to bring a different attitude to pickup trucks. This walkaround and drive session was meant to tease journalists and stimulate interest in a personal pickup that will have a solid truck foundation. This won’t be a hacked-up SUV.

And the best news is that Mitsubishi is going through with the project. Just days before we played with the truck, DaimlerChrysler officials announced the company would cease financial support of Mitsubishi. DaimlerChrysler has a 37% stake in Mitsubishi and owns all of the Chrysler Group, which has numerous joint developments in the works with Mitsubishi. But a Mitsubishi spokesperson at the Sport Truck Concept gathering said that the pickup project is “well on its way and everything is moving forward.”

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