2011 Dodge Dakota
2011 Honda Ridgeline
The replacement for the (Dodge) Ram Dakota is on track for a late 2012 or 2013 arrival. Where there was once broad speculation that this unibody pickup may be based on a smaller Fiat design, there are now rumors that it will be a larger vehicle that will compete with the Honda Ridgeline.
New details surfaced this week after Chrysler reportedly talked to suppliers about its plans for the next Dakota. This new lifestyle truck will be a unibody pickup built in the same Windsor, Ontario plant as Chrysler's minivans. The facilities building this pickup should give a good indication of its size. Because that plant only utilizes the larger minivan platform (the Dodge Journey is based on the smaller minivan platform) then the next Dakota will likely share the Grand Caravan's 121.2-inch wheelbase. If true, the Dakota will lose about 10 inches between the wheels, which brings the wheelbase within one inch of the Ridgeline.
There is no word yet on the powertrain specifications for the next Dakota. Considering this truck will likely be marketed more to weekend project masters than jobsite managers, the Grand Caravan's 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque will likely be enough to move this pickup. Power should be delivered to the front wheels in the standard model, and all-wheel drive would be a likely option. Chrysler may also reach into the parts bin of the Ram Cargo Van to give this truck some more mechanically rugged features.
Although we are referring to this truck as the next Dakota, the internal name for this soft-roader is the "TR Ram Life Style Truck". Chrysler is expected to keep the Dakota name when this unibody hits the streets to at least cash in on some of the namesake's rugged reputation. According to the report, Chrysler is looking to build between 15,000 to 20,000 units annually. Even at the bare minimum sales target, this would represent about 15% more Dakotas than were sold in the U.S. in 2010.
Using a minivan as a base for a vehicle that is supposed to have rugged image can be a tough gamble. General Motors created one of the worst examples when it built the Pontiac Aztek (2001-2005) on its minivan platform. Its horse-like face and odd proportions made this vehicle regarded as one of the ugliest things on the road, but what also made this a sales flop was its identity crisis. Buyers had a hard time believing the Aztek was a SUV since it didn't stand as tall as a minivan, and it utilized the family hauler's same diminutive 15-inch wheels (16-inch and 17-inch wheels shared with the minivan were also made available over the Aztek's life.)
The next Dakota will likely not be all bad news for truck buyers. Under the guidance of Fiat, Chrysler's products have been designed with an eye for style and more quality materials have been added to the interiors. Italian design does not equal hauling supremacy or off-road capability, but for those who only need a truck for the occasional weekend Home Depot run, a soft-roader unibody truck may be enough.