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Ram Truck Boss Won't Commit To New Midsize Pickup

Just the Facts:
  • Ram president throws cold water on the future for a new midsize pickup for Chrysler's truck division.
  • Selling a new-generation midsize pickup at a price substantially less than a full-sizer called "a massive challenge."
  • Chrysler's Ram unit intends to focus on getting the message to consumers about the attributes of the Ram 1500 full-size pickup.

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan — The bosses have changed at the Chrysler Group's Ram truck division — and so, apparently, has the thinking about a new-generation midsize pickup to replace the defunct Dakota.

At the Detroit auto show in January 2012, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said plainly that there would be a new-generation Dakota midsize pickup — one that even could be based on a car-type platform instead of a traditional pickup body-on-frame layout — and his statement was in line with the company's wide-ranging, 2009 post-bankruptcy recovery plan that called for a Dakota replacement as soon as 2011-'12.

But early this year, Chrysler told investment analysts the new-generation Dakota might not come until 2016. And this week, not 18 months after Marchionne adamantly reiterated Chrysler's intention to build a new midsize pickup for the Ram brand, the unit's recently installed new president and CEO, Reid Bigland, cast more doubt as to whether Chrysler will ever replace the Dakota. He told reporters at a roundtable meeting at Chrysler's headquarters that he doesn't currently see a business case for Ram to offer a new midsize pickup truck.

"The theory [behind midsize pickups] is pretty good," said Bigland. But, he countered, "When it comes to executing on that pickup in today's world, it's a massive challenge."

Bigland said that the amount of safety and other content required of every new vehicle makes it difficult to build a midsize pickup that would satisfy customer requirements and still have a price significantly less than the starting point of the full-size pickups on which Detroit's automakers generate so much of their profits. He suggested an effective midsize pickup would need a price tag of well less than $23,000 — and at the moment, he doesn't think it's possible for Chrysler to do that, regardless of the kind of platform on which a new-generation Dakota might be built.

The company's seeming about-face regarding the Dakota comes as sales of highly profitable full-size pickups continue to swell as the economy improves and the home-construction sector returns to something approaching pre-recession health. Indeed, Bigland stressed that the Ram unit's focus in the coming months will be on doing a better job of getting the message to customers about the revised 2013 Ram 1500 full-size pickup's attributes, which include numerous best-truck awards and segment-leading fuel economy.

Chrysler discontinued the midsize Dakota in 2012. When robust sales of Toyota's midsize Tacoma were mentioned, Bigland said he wonders if Toyota can make a case for a new-generation midsizer. "We'll be curious to see if there's a next iteration of the Tacoma," he said.

General Motors confirmed in late 2011 that it plans to introduce a new-generation midsize pickup to the U.S. market to replace the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon that was discontinued in 2012. Chrysler rival GM's plan is to leverage a lower-cost body-on-frame structure developed for emerging-market pickups, and Ram's Bigland admitted that strategy might make it possible to sell a midsize pickup in the U.S. priced sufficiently lower than full-size pickups. Chrysler, however, currently does not have the same kind of low-cost, non-domestic source for a midsize pickup.

Edmunds says: To the chagrin of those hoping for more choices in the midsize-pickup market, Chrysler takes another step away from replacing the Dakota.

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