December 7, 2009Chrysler plans for future Ram after Dakota
One future product idea that has survived the transition from bankrupt Chrysler to the new Chrysler Group LLC is a unibody pickup to replace the Dodge Dakota, which will be discontinued in 2011.
"As we look to replace the Dakota with a different product, there are some opportunities with (partner) Fiat (SpA) that we have and we need to examine," Fred Diaz, head of the Ram brand, said in an interview with The Detroit News.
But there also are possibilities "within the walls of Chrysler that we`re looking at as well that could end up being a very good replacement for the Dakota," Diaz said.
A car-based pickup was already in the works before Chrysler`s financial difficulties forced it into bankruptcy and a partnership with Fiat.
The company was developing a multipurpose vehicle from a more fuel-efficient car platform. What was envisioned was a front-wheel-drive truck with all-wheel-drive capability and a direct-injection and turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Diaz is on the same page.
"The emphasis is going to be on getting a vehicle that is still true to the Ram brand image and also gets excellent miles per gallon rating and at an attractive price point," he said.
One of the problems with the Dakota was that it was too close in price to a full-size Ram. With its replacement, "we`re trying to increase the size of that gap between midsize truck and full-size truck," Diaz said.
But the popularity of compact pickups is declining. They account for 5 percent of U.S. sales; full-size pickups represent almost 23 percent.
And the Dakota has not fared well. Dodge sold only 663 Dakotas in November, down 62 percent, and only 10,072 have been sold this year.
"When a vehicle is not doing well you have two choices: change it or abandon it," said Van Conway, analyst and president of Conway MacKenzie Inc. in Birmingham.
Chrysler is not the first to try to change it.
The idea of a car-based pickup dates back to the 2004 North American International Auto Show when Honda Motor Co. showed the Ridgeline concept. The Ridgeline went on sale in 2005 to limited success. Sales through November are less than 15,000, down 54 percent, according to Autodata Corp.
Toyota Motor Corp. showed the A-BAT concept, a small hybrid unibody pickup, at the 2008 Detroit auto show but has no immediate plans to put it into production, said spokesman John McCandless.
"A lot of people have tried the idea of creating an almost-truck," said Gary Dilts, senior vice president with J.D. Power & Associates and former Chrysler executive. "I can`t think of anyone who has been successful."
But James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, disagrees. "I think unibody is the way to go."
Diaz agrees. He said the decision to proceed will take into account the experiences of the competition. But he sees untapped potential.
"If I had a nickel for every dealer who told me this is the type of truck that they dream of and want and could sell in volume, I could have retired by now."