Automobile

The new Stellantis pickup: Schrödinger’s Dakota

There was an admittedly off-brand report last month by GM Authority — an online blog that religiously follows all things General Motors — that the revival of the Ram nee Dodge Dakota had gotten the axe.

Stellantis nee FCA declined to comment on the report, which the blog had sourced to “sources inside Stellantis.” A source told Automotive News that the resurrection of the Dakota nameplate is still moving ahead.

Frankly, given the recent ownership and management changes in Auburn Hills and what’s happened in the midsize pickup segment, this game of Schrödinger’s Dakota isn’t all that surprising.

Think about it; if you’re Carlos Tavares and you’ve just smashed together two disparate global automakers into one thing that you pray will eventually work, you might be casting about for ways to simplify your operations. And an expensive project launched by your predecessor to jam a second vehicle into a now-crowded segment where the market leader still commands a 40-plus percent market share with a 6 year old truck?

That might look very attractive to axe — at least from Paris. And it would be absolutely the right call to make, if Ram’s intention to relaunch the Dakota was to make another almost-full-sized midsize pickup in a segment full of them. (Ford is developing an all-new pickup smaller than the Ranger, and Hyundai plans to market a truck aimed at the midsize segment, as well.)

Let me say right here that I don’t know what Ralph Gilles and his talented team in Auburn Hills were planning for the first Dakota in at least a decade. But were it me, I’d be aiming for a Dakota that’s a hell of a lot smaller than anything else in the bloated segment — something about the size of a first-generation Toyota Tacoma.

Midsize pickups such as the previous Dakota, as well as the Ford Ranger and Chevy Colorado, fell out of favor after the Great Recession in part because automakers felt the midsizers were cannibalizing more lucrative full-size pickup volume. That generation of midsize pickups had ballooned from their early roots, and the price differentials didn’t make much economic sense when a consumer could get all the benefit of a full-sized pickup for almost the same price.

The price argument kept what was then FCA out of the segment until it launched the Jeep Gladiator in 2018, a pickup that could largely ignore issues of segment price disparity. Gladiator sales almost doubled in 2020, and only it and the Ranger picked up volume over 2019.

But where price in the segment was an issue, size is now. Every midsize pickup is bigger than it was a generation ago, some greatly so. That may be what the majority of consumers want, but it isn’t what every consumer is looking for. As anyone who’s struggled to park one of today’s full-sized behemoth pickups will attest, there is white space in the market for a small pickup. Someone will eventually fill that gap.

I for one am hoping that Schrödinger’s Dakota is alive — and just smaller than we all thought it would be.

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