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Will the Dakota nameplate return? Never say never

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It’s a cliché but a good one: Never say never. There have been on again, off again rumors of the return of the Dakota as a rival to Ford and GM midsize trucks. But those rumors have regularly been put to bed by Stellantis North America spokespeople.

Because we were curious about where things stand, we reached out to Stellantis (again) and received the predictable reply: “We can’t comment on this.”

So, is no comment a denial that such a vehicle exists or an affirmation that a plan is in place, and thus the automaker can’t speak about future product? In this case, it’s probably a denial, but lest we get repetitive, never say never.

Why do we revisit this now? Well, with Ford Motor Company having more than 100k reservations for the 2022 Maverick and Hyundai launching a compact pickup truck, those two automakers might know something about the growing need for smaller trucks.

“Ford and Hyundai are entering the compact pickup market as supplements to their small crossovers,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of Global Vehicle Forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions. “The Maverick, in essence, replaces the outgoing EcoSport as the entry point in its crossover lineup while Hyundai is finding a niche between its Kona and Tucson. While given the open bed and image of a pickup, buyers are hardly midsized pickup intenders who couldn’t afford a Ford Ranger.”

So, it makes sense for Stellantis to get in on the small truck action, right?

Ram Dakota as a compact pickup truck

All of the previous rumors were about a Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma rival from Stellantis, likely capitalizing on the Dakota name. But Stellantis came out with the midsized Jeep Gladiator, the Wrangler-based pickup truck. And that truck is very important to Stellantis.

So, it stands to reason, Stellantis would be very worried about cannibalizing sales of the Gladiator to produce a small pickup truck rival.

“Stellantis has small pickups in other parts of the world, however it would need to completely redesign the Fiat Strada/Ram 700 or Fiat Toro/Ram 1000 for the U.S. market and find a place to produce it locally,” Fiorani said. “It would make more sense to see how big of a market Ford and Hyundai carve out with their new models and just how much of a bite they take out of the crossovers in their own lineups. Adding 30,000 or 40,000 pickups to Stellantis sales would not be beneficial if it ate away at a significant number of Jeep sales.”

Will they or won’t they?

The speculation is almost like watching a love story from a bad sitcom. But will Stellantis, in some capacity, create a rival to the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz? Will they, as other automakers have done, capitalize on a name from the past, of which by the way they still own the rights to?

Those are logical questions to ask. And while the tea leaves are unclear, Fiat Chrysler did renew the Dakota trademark in 2020 before the Stellantis merger was finalized. I think as Fiorani said, Stellantis — General Motors, too — will take a wait-and-see approach as to how well the Maverick and Santa Cruz sell and see how much of a market demand there is for a small pickup truck.

The bottom line on a possible Ram Dakota

My take is simple: Investing in a new nameplate in an unestablished segment is risky. Most automakers are not in the current financial position to take such a risk (what with a global pandemic and everything). But, go back to the last time automakers fell on hard financial times, and GM, Ford and Chrysler cut down their product offerings. They got rid of their smaller pickup trucks — only to allow Toyota to remain and dominate that segment.

And sure, the Ranger and Colorado are back, and there’s now a Jeep pickup truck, too, but are we seeing history repeat itself? Will Ford be the smart, savvy one recognizing an emerging, untapped segment and coming in early with the fuel-efficient hybrid Maverick? Will Stellantis regret not coming in or wait too long?

A Dakota versus Maverick showdown could happen and would be interesting. So, we’ll say it again: Never say never.

Leave me your thoughts on the return of the Ram Dakota in the comments below.

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Jimmy Dinsmore

Jimmy is News Editor for PickupTruckTalk with an expertise in new vehicles. He is also a Ford Mustang historian having authored the book Mustang by Design (available on Amazon). His second book, about the history of Ford's F-Series truck comes out next year.

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