The need for a light-duty, fuel-efficient pickup is driving the idea to replace the Dakota with a car-based vehicle
Compact pickups have been slow-sellers even in good times, but of late they are particularly hard to move. Chrysler's prospective solution to that problem, voiced by Frank Klegon to The Detroit News, emphasizes low pricing and efficiency as the motivating factors. "What is needed is a lighter-duty, multipurpose vehicle from a lighter, more fuel-efficient car platform that allows the vehicle to be priced significantly different from what your full-size trucks are," said Klegon. It is expected to feature unibody construction, FWD as standard and AWD as an option, but beyond that the specification is kept secret.
The pricing factor may be the most attractive aspect of the idea for Chrysler, since cutting prices means opening the vehicle up to a wider market while at the same time allowing for more comfortable profit margins. The situation for small trucks was made all the worse when prices of full-size trucks began plummeting in the face of 2008's nose-diving sales.
Another aspect Chrysler is banking on is the different perceptions buyers would have of the car-truck as opposed to a compact pickup. Rather than seeing the vehicle as a miniature version of a full-size truck that should be able to haul, off-road and tow, it would be perceived as an urban utility vehicle, intended for light loads and paved roads. That difference in perception enables smaller, more efficient engines to be put to the task, making the cars both cheaper and less expensive to operate.
If Chrysler does choose to build the car-based urban utility vehicle, it would likely take the place of the Dakota compact pickup (pictured) in the Dodge lineup. It's not yet clear if it will take the design path of the El Camino-like G8 ST or other similar vehicles, or if it will veer nearer the unibody construction but pickup-like design of Honda's Ridgeline.