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Ram Breathing New Life Into the Dakota

There’s no denying the pickup market has increased in size, right along with the body of half-ton pickups. If you were to turn back the clock to five years ago, most of the major truck manufacturers had completely abandoned the midsize light pickup. With a focus on towing, larger engines, and max payloads, Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford all cut ties with the smaller truck designs. In 2013, neither FCA, GM, or Ford had any fingerprint within the sector. However, slowly but surely, as technology has made it possible to fit more powerful engines into the smaller frames, each manufacturer has returned to form and brought back the smaller designs. General Motors was the first with its Chevy Colorado (which it has briefly discontinued for a year before bringing it back in 2014). Ford just recently brought back the Ranger, and just last year, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles released the long-awaited Jeep Gladiator. Now Ram, the truck division of the FCA, is set to bring back an old favorite Ram truck, the Dakota.

Brief Look Back At The Dakota

During the mid-1980s, the midsize light pickup market was booming. Gas prices were extremely high at this point in time, so people looking for a truck that didn’t need extreme towing and payload numbers turned to the smaller trucks. In 1986, Dodge released the Dakota. Dodge didn’t do much with the first generation, as it maintained this generation from 1986 all the way through 1996 (with a minor engine upgrade in 1991). However, while the Dakota didn’t change all that much in the early years, Dodge did release it in a convertible option, which marked the very first time a pickup came as a stock convertible since the time of the Ford Model A (the convertible Dakota didn’t last for long, and don’t expect Ram to bring this design back).

The second-generation kicked off in 1997 and gave the pickup an updated look. It helped modernize the truck and keep it competitive with the ever-growing midsize light pickup market. At this time, other manufacturers were starting to deliver improved light trucks, including Nissan and Toyota (which, up until this point, the Asian manufacturers were using underpowered engines, so the specs didn’t come close to the American models). By the time the third generation came around in 2005, Dodge had decided to offer the Dakota with an upgraded V8. The 4.7L V8 was one of the most powerful light trucks on the market.

A white 1989 Dodge Dakota is driving on a rock lined road.

By 2009, the FCA spun off a new division as it decided to create a separate lineup for its trucks. So it created the stand-alone Ram company and moved all the previous Dodge pickups to this division. So starting with the 2009 model year, the Dodge Dakota started to go by the name of Ram Dakota. However, the Ram Dakota lasted only two years as the FCA stopped production in 2011. This was due to the decline in light-weight truck sales. This didn’t only affect Ram truck sales but almost all truck manufacturers.

Bringing Back The Ram Dakota

After an extended absence from the midsize light truck lineup, the FCA decided to jump back in with the release of the Jeep Gladiator. The Jeep Gladiator officially went on sale in 2019 with the 2020 model year. However, the FCA wants also to offer a more traditional midsize pickup. While the Jeep has best-in-class towing for the segment, the body frame of the vehicle is pure Jeep, which some truck buyers absolutely love, while others want the more traditional doors and truck design. To appease the truck buyers, the FCA announced it would begin selling a new Ram midsize pickup.

Now, it is important to point out that the Ram “Dakota” name has not yet been confirmed. The name of Dakota is pure speculation, as it will essentially be taking up the space of the previous Dakota. However, the FCA has thrown a few curveballs, so the naming is not guaranteed. After all, for the longest time, it was believed the Jeep pickup would be called the Jeep Comanche or Scrambler. So while the Dakota name is likely, it is possible that the FCA decided to pull from a previous name, such as the D100. So don’t be completely shocked if the new Ram midsize pickup ends up being called by a different name (although we fully expect it to be the Dakota).

What We Know

Very little of the Ram Dakota is known. In fact, basically, nothing of the truck is currently known. Outside of the FCA announcing it would release a midsize Ram pickup for the 2021 model year. Realistically the full model reveal will take place at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, so we’ll need to wait for specifics. However, it is possible to make some realistic assumptions.

A blue 2003 Dodge Dakota is parked in front a large rock hill.

For starters, there’s a reason why the FCA put out the Jeep Gladiator first. It wanted not only to test the market while creating a unique Jeep vehicle, but it also wanted to begin working out the kinks for a midsize truck that would have more mass appeal. Due to this, the new Ram Dakota will most likely be built on the same platform as the Jeep Gladiator. This will also push production of the Dakota back into the United States (it had shifted to Brazil and Mexico at the end of its production run, but as the Gladiator is built in the United States, there’s an excellent chance it will be built on the same line in Toledo, Ohio).

Assuming it is built on the same platform as the Jeep Gladiator, there’s an excellent chance it will also feature the same 3.6L V6 engine. Of course, Dodge loves to drop in some massive V8 engines, and it has done this with both the Jeep and Dodge lineup of vehicles. So this is a potential option further down the road, although, don’t expect a Hellcat-like trim performance with the initial run (although it might come about a few years after the release).

The truck will probably also feature the same 8-speed automatic transmission and either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive offerings. It probably will not receive a diesel engine to start. The FCA will likely include the diesel engine in the Jeep Gladiator first (which it’s already doing in the European model). So after you see a diesel engine in the Gladiator, it probably will not be far behind for the new Dakota.

It is also believed the starting MSRP will be somewhere in the mid $20,000s. This will keep it competitive with other midsize pickups.

While all of this might change in the coming months, it’s an exciting time for the world of light-duty pickups especially as the Dakota looks to make its return.

What Excites You?

When considering a midsize light-duty pickup over the full-size, half-ton pickups, what gets you excited? Do you shop for the smaller trucks based on engine performance and payload potential? Or is it all about the interior cabin? And what is it about the smaller truck that is a selling point over the larger versions? The improved fuel economy? The lower price point? And what do you want to see in this new Ram Dakota? The Ram 1500 has been named the truck of the year for the last two years, so there is a good chance it will feature elements of the Ram 1500 mixed with the Jeep Gladiator. Whatever you’re looking for, let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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