With Chevrolet and GMC getting back into the midsize pickup truck segment, there have been a lot of questions about whether other companies would try to compete as well. Hyundai has hinted at a smaller entry in the form of the Santa Cruz concept, but Ford has made it clear that it intends to keep the Ranger out of the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Up until now, Ram has said very little about whether it intended to bring the Dakota back, but after a conversation at the New York Auto Show with Automotive News, it looks like a new Dakota is officially off the table for the U.S.
Rob Hegbloom, president of Ram, said that the main factor is fuel economy. Specifically, he believes that a midsize pickup truck should get better gas mileage than a full size one, and since a diesel Ram is rated at 29 miles per gallon on the highway, providing better fuel economy in a midsize truck would be too expensive.
“If full-size now is pushing 30 [miles per gallon], you’re going to expect a midsize to be at least at 35,” Hegbloom said. “You’re also going to expect it to be significantly less expensive. But to bring the technology in to deliver on 35 miles per gallon, then you’re going to raise the price.” A small diesel engine in a midsize truck could hit those numbers, “[b]ut if you do that, you also have the expense that goes along with it. Now you’ve got a price point consistent with a full-size truck.”
According to Hegbloom’s line of thinking, midsize trucks don’t offer as much capability but should also be smaller, less expensive, and have a significant fuel economy advantage over their full-size versions.
“When you look at those four factors, that’s truly what a midsize pickup customer is looking for,” Hegbloom said. “I’ve been able to develop a strategy to come up with three of the four — and even with what’s out there on the market today, I haven’t seen anyone who can deliver on all four.”
Judging midsize pickup trucks by that standard, he certainly has a point. While midsize trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma are smaller than today’s full-size trucks, they’re certainly not small. With a few options included, their price tags also easily climb in to the full-size range. Even their fuel economy isn’t significantly better than even the F-150 with its 2.7 liter EcoBoost engine.
If someone can buy a brand new F-150 that was just completely redesigned and offers both more room and more capability for not a whole lot more than an aging Toyota Tacoma, why do they keep buying the Tacoma? A large part of that reasoning comes down to size. While modern midsize trucks aren’t exactly small, they’re still smaller than full-size trucks. They give drivers the ability to choose not to drive something so big, which pays off when driving down city streets or attempting to navigate crowded parking lots.
Does that mean that Hegbloom is being dishonest about why Ram won’t be building a new Dakota? That could be the case. The Dakota revival could have gotten to ax for any number of reasons. Maybe FCA’s internal politics got in the way. Maybe Ram thinks that a midsize truck would steal sales from its full-size lineup, hurting profitability with lower profit margins. Then again, he could truly believe that a midsize truck should offer clear advantages over a full-size truck other than size.
There’s another theory, however, that would be much more exciting than any of those theories. Perhaps the long-awaited Jeep Wrangler-based pickup truck is on its way, and FCA is concerned that a Dakota would be unnecessary once a Wrangler truck goes on sale. Developing such a truck would be about as simple and straightforward as developing new vehicles gets. After all, the Wrangler already exists. It would just have to be modified to accommodate the truck bed. A new Dakota, on the other hand, would need to be designed from scratch. There are also way more people who have been clamoring for Jeep to make a pickup than those who have been clamoring for the Dakota’s return.
If the Wrangler pickup has finally been green-lit, it’s doubtful than anyone will truly miss the Ram Dakota that never was. If not, then it’s disappointing to see that the midsize truck segment will continue to be GM taking on Toyota and Nissan. A new Dakota would have been an interesting addition, but at least the midsize truck segment is no longer just a Tacoma and Frontier race.