2011 Dodge Dakota
2011 Buick Regal
There's been a flurry of new-product news making the rounds in recent weeks, so I figured now would be a good time to do a little prognosticating about two of the more interesting players likely to be heading our way in the future: A new unibody Ram pickup and a coupe variant for the Buick Regal.
Introducing a Whole New "Life Style"
On the Ram side of the street, it seems the oft-discussed rumors of a unibody replacement for the Ram Dakota compact pickup are actually going to come true. The short story here is that the Chrysler Group appears to be on track to build what's currently being called the "TR Ram Life Style Truck," based on the same platform that now supports the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.
The industry is certainly overdue for an overhaul of the pickup segments, and I'm frankly shocked it hasn't happened yet'”especially when I look at the success of today's crossover vehicles. At one time, remember, body-on-frame SUVs were selling like the proverbial hotcakes and unibody crossovers were viewed with something like contempt because they weren't "real" trucks. But the car-like driving experience provided by crossovers, as well as their increased fuel efficiency and the realization by many buyers that they don't "need" all the capabilities offered by a body-on-frame vehicle, completely up-ended the original SUV vs. crossover paradigm. And this year the process went to its logical conclusion when the Blue Oval relaunched the Ford Explorer as a unibody product; as an FYI, the sales of the Explorer were up 137.8 percent in April.
There's no reason that same template won't work for pickups, provided it's implemented by the right company, i.e., one of the former Big Three. My thinking is that one of the reasons the Honda Ridgeline failed was that Honda didn't have the truck heritage needed to play the same game Ford is playing with the new Explorer. That is, Honda couldn't position its product as just the newest, most-modern member of a highly successful "real" truck family'”and that's something that will be necessary, at least initially, to attract customers to this type of product.
Needless to say, Ram won't have that problem. The move also would help solidify the brand as an ongoing concern by providing it with a much-needed new vehicle to sell. At this stage in the game, the only products wearing the bighorn badge are the Ram Pickup and the Dakota, which sold all of 1,580 units in April and is slated to end production this year.
There aren't many similarities between the Ram brand and Buick, but you could make a case that Buick was very recently in the same position as Ram is in now. That is, in dire need of new product. Before the Regal launched, the brand was fielding just the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Lucerne and Buick Enclave, with only the first getting any significant attention in terms of upgrades.
The Regal helped change that, and the upcoming Buick Verano will join the lineup in the near future, too. And there are more vehicles on the way, including a "baby Enclave" and, as detailed recently by Autotropolis' own Benjamin Hunting, a number of new car possibilities are on the Buick radar screen. But as Hunting reports, it's the potential Regal coupe that would be the game-changer.
Buick has long positioned itself as the "American Lexus," but with Toyota's luxe division running into some trouble lately, for a lot of reasons, that comparison isn't worth as much as it used to be. More to the point now may be how Buick compares with products like the Hyundai Genesis'”which happens to come in both coupe and sedan flavors. It's hard to get a solid handle on what a coupe brings to the table, because oft-times the prestige and aura it offers to a brand far outweigh the number of sales it achieves. But that kind of "halo" vehicle is notably missing from the current Buick roster.
The "sportier" Regal models, like turbo and the soon-to-debut GS, have underwhelmed most reviewers, and while a case could be made for building the LaCrosse into a flagship sedan, there are no signs that's going to happen. The Lucerne and Enclave are simply too old to fill that kind of leadership role.
Ram'”and the Chrysler Group'”are still going to be hamstrung by their lack of small, fuel-efficient vehicles, but a modern unibody truck could be a real breakthrough, while at Buick, a fresh Regal coupe could be the crowning achievement in the brand's quest to reinvent itself for the 21st century.