By on February 13, 2020

2003 Dodge Dakota 5.9 R/T, Image: Chrysler

File this tidbit under the “no shit” banner. Fiat Chrysler has been without a mainstream midsize pickup since the beginning of the previous decade, and the automaker’s dealer council is sick of waiting.

A our own Tim Cain told you recently, 2019 brought the public’s growing desire for midsize pickups into stark clarity. The segment’s hot and, with the addition of the Ford Ranger, growing. FCA dealers want a slice of that action.

While Jeep got into the game in 2019, the Gladiator’s loftier price point and unique off-road persona sets it apart from other midsize offerings.

Phil Bivens, chairman of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles National Dealer Council, told Automotive News recently that a midsize Ram truck remains the largest white space in need of filling at FCA.

“I haven’t seen anything in the product portfolio that suggests that it might be coming, but just like with heavy duty, not everyone wants a big truck like that,” he said. “Not everyone needs that full truck. Then you talk about the 1500, those are still big rigs. With city driving and things, I would love a midsize truck. Would be crazy not to want it.”

Bivens added, “I’ve got a Chevrolet store, and I’ll tell you what — the Colorado has just been wildly successful. Obviously, you can see what the Toyota Tacoma has been doing.”

Despite a new challenger entering in the midsize space, the Tacoma eked out yet another sales increase in 2019. Toyota sells as many Tacomas as it can build on both sides of the Rio Grande.

Midsize pickup market share rose to a 13-year high last year, and, while Ram carried itself to new heights in 2019 on the combined strength of the new 1500 and held-over 1500 Classic, a latter-day Dakota would would further help the automaker battle its rivals. Ram can’t keep the previous-gen full-size in production forever.

General Motors has Colorado and GMC Canyon refreshes inbound for 2021, with money already pledged for a full revamp in due time. The ancient Nissan Frontier gained a new powertrain for 2020, ahead of a long-overdue redesign expected later this year.

Last March, FCA CEO Mike Manley called the lack of midsize pickup “a clear hole in our portfolio,” adding that the automaker is “focused on it.” He revisited the issue late last year, claiming the pending merger with France’s PSA Group offers a “fabulous opportunity” for a new midsizer. Such a vehicle wouldn’t arrive overnight, however, leaving Ram dealers to play the waiting game.

It’s a game they’re used to playing.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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47 Comments on “Desperately Seeking Dakota: Fiat Chrysler Dealer Council Hot for a Midsize...”


  • avatar
    retrocrank

    Sure would be nice to have a couple of small pickups (e.g. Dodge D50, Chevy LUV, Mazda B2000) and truly medium-size (original Ranger, S10) among the utility choices on the market. Some of us would find a small pickup to be very useful but don’t need a giant thing nor the image that goes with a giant thing. Even the Frontier and Tacoma are marginally too big for the 8 of us in the USA who want a small pickup.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Thumbs up, Retro.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      Aint nobody in the USA buying a truck that’s smaller than a Tacoma. There is already a truck that is more manageable – the Honda Ridgeline – and even that doesnt sell in spectacular numbers because its not a “real truck”.

      Im all for retro, but take a spin in a Taco or Frontier and tell me that its not incredibly tiny in the cabin.

      Maybe another Explorer Sport Trac?

      • 0 avatar
        N8iveVA

        SSJeep: “take a spin in a Taco or Frontier and tell me that its not incredibly tiny in the cabin.”

        That’s because they’re midsize on the outside and compact on the insides. Compare the size of the inside and outside of an 80’s Toyota P/U to a new one.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          It’s not as they claim. As always, they have to compare an old 2wd regular cab to a new extra cab 4X4 for their argument or “math” to sorta work.

          It’s the same with fullsize trucks, old vs new.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “There is already a truck that is more manageable – the Honda Ridgeline”

        The Ridgeline is basically the same width as an F150. A Ridgeline is 2116mm (83.3″) wide with mirrors folded. The F150 is 2121mm (83.5″) mirrors folded.

        Modern safety rules mean that a small truck needs to be wider due to thicker doors for side impacts and add to that fact the “supersizeme” humanoids buying vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Thumbs up, Lou. It appears too many people really don’t know about what they speak. In almost every dimension except roofline height, a Ridgeline can classify as a full-sized pickup, even if it doesn’t have the power and springs to carry or tow the weight those other trucks can. They are the full sized truck for those who don’t have the loads to tow or carry the way SOME full-sized owners do.

    • 0 avatar
      Sockemdog

      Absolutely 100& agree. I had a 1992 Mazda B2600 at one time and would love to see something that size again.

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        I’ve had several small trucks over the last 45 years. B2000 was the most comfortable, an first-gen Scout had the most character (and arguably wasn’t really a truck), but a base first-gen S10 4×4 with the V6 was the most useful and therefore the “best” overall. One could hear it rust though. On modern roads I’d be happy with the Ranger or the S10 right now, although I liked the “block” styling of the S10 better.

    • 0 avatar
      phreshone

      Would be nice, but I don’t think you can make one that passes safety testing, or at least pass it by enough to get a 3 or 4 star rating so it will sell.

      Perhaps a Rampage/Rabbit type FWD with a bed, but would it sell???

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Isn’t Ford bringing the Courier back (based on the Focus we didn’t get)? More of a small ute I bet, but likely similarly capability and size wise.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m not an engineer, but what would it take to replace the Wrangleresque body of the Gladiator with a shrunken version of the RAM1500 body? With a little more effort, remove the transfer case and driven front axle for folks who want 2WD.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    I would buy a midsize extended cab pickup with the gladiators solid front axle but without the steep entry price. Or a V8.

    Otherwise without one of those two options it’s just another boat in the ocean.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      The Gladiator is excessively expensive. I was looking at a fully loaded Gladiator Rubicon on the local dealer lot and a fully loaded Power Wagon was around 4k higher. In my mind there is zero contest. I’d take the PW over the Gladiator any day.

  • avatar
    Dan

    A fashion statement midsize would be redundant to the Jeep they already have.

    A value midsize doesn’t have much room underneath the old body style Ram that they also already have.

    Who is the customer for this?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @Dan: Me… And people like me. I bought a Colorado because it met my needs better than any of the others at the time, after selling a ’97 Ranger that only lacked an extended cab and about 50 horses to have been a keeper (the new owner loves it just as it is.)

      A proper mid-size is not a “fashion statement” but rather an acknowledgement that the full-sizers are simple more truck than many owners need.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Somebody who wants a truck but doesn’t want it to be 80 inches wide and 235 inches long.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        160,000 Colorado twins a year say that you’re right but I’m still convinced that most of those are same lot conquest sales since GM stopped trying with the Silverado.

        Nobody buys Ridgelines. Nobody buys Frontiers for enough money to fight over. Everybody and their cousin buys Tacomas and I don’t understand that either.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          There are many places in the US, both in cities and off roads, where a truck as big as a full-size truck is just a pain in the ass. Today’s midsizers are still pretty big but the difference is enough to make parking and tight trails a bit less painful.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yeah there could be parking and offroad trade-offs, but the question remains, is it worth the extra pain or effort?

            Sports cars have specific trade-offs, but obviously it depends on what’s important to you. What about motor homes? Or just dually crew cabs?

            What they can do, or do for you no doubt outweigh the trade-offs.

            Motorcycles can solve lots of these problems, but again, trade-offs.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: I’m going to turn your question around on you.

            Is the extra size and cost of a full-sized truck really worth the extra pain and effort of parking and off-road trade-offs? Is it really worth the hassles of of poor maneuverability and poor visibility on the streets and highways? How many full-size owners really use their trucks to full capacity?

            I actually agree with you on one point: What’s really important to the owner, its overall size or the ability to do what the owner wants of it? In many, MANY cases, smaller is better. When you look at today’s full sized trucks, they have the same bed volume as their mid-sized siblings. And you certainly don’t need a full sized truck to tow a 6000# camping or horse trailer (7000# with the newest versions.)

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Do you even have to ask? Yes totality worth it. You’re heard it a million times, midsize pickups offer no real advantage other than overall dimensions, but that’s marginal anymore, and of course regular cabs are gone.

            Half tons are basically the Goldilocks pickups.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            If half-tons are the “Goldilocks” models, why are so many people complaining they’re too big? Goldilocks hated things that were too big (hard/hot/ etc.)

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It could be most Americans considering a pickup, find the size appalling. We’re not talking about them.

            Maybe they’re spatially inept, and feel they’ll run into all sorts of things. There’s obviously a learning curve, if they’re used to compacts.

            Clearly some should stay where they feel comfortable. Yeah sometimes I feel my F-150 is too big, mostly the times I’ve had to get out and push the thing (my fault) , but also the times both its mirrors are into the airspace of the parking spaces on either side.

            Other times I wish it was more heavy duty. It lacks real power and engine braking, capacity is too limited for some jobs, and the fuel tank sucks on 1000+ mile drives.

            Except most all 1/2 ton owners will say it’s just right for most uses/occasions.

            In a perfect world, we’d all own at least 3 pickups, small, medium and dually crew cab.

  • avatar
    JMII

    2002 4.7l V8 2WD Dakota Quad Cab SLT owner here… just waiting for a modern version to return. As mentioned the Gladiator is too pricey and I’d like an engine with more grunt. A turbo 6 might work, as sadly I think small diesel window is closing.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Why did everyone bail from the midsize market….and now everyone wants back in?

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      @Jerome10

      The stated rationale at the time was that smaller trucks were only incrementally less expensive to produce compared to full-sizers, and offered only minimal advantage in fuel consumption. Product planners knew full-sizers propel enormous profit, so R&D was concentrated there.

      Of course, this determination was made before the North American market went all-in for anything that was NOT a sedan.

      Thing is, those fundamentals still exist. When full-size ext cab pickups are returning around 21 mpg, can still tow A LOT, AND carry a family of 5 in comfort, the window of opportunity for 23 mpg 4/5th or even 3/5th size truck is kinda narrow…especially when the purchase price delta is not huge, which it isn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The market simply shifted. As it rejects sedans, many aren’t fans of CUVs/SUVs.

      If you’ll notice, midsize pickup makers are no longer afraid to price them equal to fullsize pickups, or higher as you add options.

      $3,500 for F-150 4wd and $4 for Ranger 4wd. Is it a better 4wd??
      Plus less rebates, less variation, and less “sell days”, means profits worthy of the “trouble”.

      Pickups have always been the sporty solution, without the stigma of Wranglers/CJs, especially for empty-nesters, Gen-X with kids exiting the house and or college.

      It’s a new way of looking at the pickup market, along with the realization that the majority of the market would never in a million years own anything fullsize.

  • avatar
    bkojote

    People who actually want a compact pickup: nobody. Nobody sits in a current gen mid-sizer and thinks “oh gosh, this is too big.” The people claiming if only there was a Ford Courier for sale are justifying their Nissan Sentra.

    I think there’s room for RAM to get in the game here. The full-size RAM 1500 is cleaning up against fairly competent competition, so you’d think they could clobber everyone in the mid-size field. I’ll put it this way – up until 2019 the best mid-size pickup was the Nissan Frontier, which could be had with an honest-to-goodness stick, had fantastic packaging, and pretty solid ergonomics with some peak Ghosn-era styling.

    The Colorado/Canyon are competent but aren’t particularly reliable (especially after the 8 speed update) and are fairly uninspired productions. Plus nobody really wants to be seen in a GM truck. The Ranger is a lazy effort with shoddy assembly and the fake fart-can engine noise is embarrassing- it makes a PT Cruiser ‘Woodie’ owner cringe. The Ridgeline’s actually a pretty sweet truck and the ones I see work super hard but it’s styled like a rental CUV and needs a volume knob.

  • avatar
    readallover

    Badge engineer the Fiat Strada mini-pickup as a Dodge D-50 and have the market all to yourself. Of course they won`t do that (or the Panda) for desperate Fiat dealers, why should they do it for Dodge dealers?

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    What made Dakota great was a mid size with a V8. Those days are gone 4ever.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I had 2 Dakotas with 5.9 V8s. They had 250hp and they averaged low double digit gas mileage (11-14). A modern V6 would eat its lunch with no compromises except the exhaust note. A modern V8 in an actual midsizer would be overkill.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Overkill sounds good to me.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        There’s no reason a V8 midsize would get worse mpg than the same V8 in a fullsize. Perhaps you have a heavy foot. In cases where midsizers gave you a choice (no SRT, Devil Edition, etc), same truck, V8 or V6, the V8 was about 1 mpg worse in the EPA test-loop.

        Real world, the V8 midsize was likely seeing better mpg, since you’re not needing bury the gas pedal deep into the carpet fibers just to keep up with traffic.

        And that was when midsizers weren’t up to 6K lbs wet weight, before a trailer.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          @DM: Logically, you would be right. But that assumes they use the exact same driveline for the two vehicles. Odds are they would make the gearing taller in the mid-sized, to use the additional torque of the V8 and probably put a 7- or 8-speed tranny in it with a closer gear ratio, pretty much killing what should be an incredible gas mileage advantage on the smaller truck.

          How do I know? Take a look at what they’ve done in the past.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Using taller gears (numerically lower, less aggressive) would yield better MPG, so would a closer gear-spread (split between more gears) and or a double overdrive.

            Of course the smaller tires/wheels means less parasitic drag and less rolling resistance. Never mind the less wind resistance of midsize pickups, not to mention less weight.

            C6/7 Corvettes get 30 MPG highway no problem, without even trying hard, despite a rockin’ 450+ HP V8. Similarly, normal V8 Mustangs and Camaros with less HP can’t come close to 30 MPG.

            It’s doubtful a Corvette with a 300 HP V6 could top 30 MPG, especially if geared to (somewhat) make up for the lost power.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: Dude, if a ’97 Camaro with a V6 and 200 horses could achieve 32+mpg, most certainly a modern Corvette with a V8 could do a lot more by just a little more stretch between the transmission gears. Of course, it might not have quite the acceleration as the performance model (take a look at the performance numbers with each version they put out on a given year) but if a Camaro can idle along at 70mph getting 32 then a Corvette should be able to idle along at the same speed at 38mpg. They just don’t want it let it do that.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles National Dealer Council seems to have better ideas than the Lincoln National Dealer Council.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I wouldn’t mind a true compact pickup with a small extended cab even if it were based on a front wheel drive suv or compact car. Keep it simple with just air and a radio without the key fob. Make it with a base 4 cylinder no turbos and a 5 or 6 speed manual and a geared automatic as an option (no cvts or double clutches). Keep it simple and make it with a plastic floor (no thin carpeting). Price it at 15k. I would settle for a Chinese made one that is basically assembled in North America.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      For $15k you could get a depreciated full-size truck with all the bells and whistles… but I get what you’re saying. Unfortunately the market is there for depreciated trucks, and not for $15k Ace of Base contenders.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Really don’t want or need a full size pickup even for free. Much rather have a newer compact pickup without a crew cab and have a bed that is more than 4 feet long. I doubt American manufacturers are interested in making anything priced less than 30k and that is not at least midsize. That is why I mentioned the Chinese they might be willing to make a true compact truck even if it means sending kits to the US to be assembled. At 15k or even less than 20k I bet there would be enough people interested in buying one especially if it were not full of electronic nannies and if it were mechanically simple. Since I have other vehicles I would not need a larger one but I do need the open bed and easy access to the bed and easy to park and drive. Most of today’s full size trucks have the maneuverability of a 72 Cadillac or Lincoln.

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