With the announcement that General Motors will introduce new versions of its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon small pickup trucks, we're once again reminded that the other two big Detroit automakers have killed off their compact trucks. Ford Ranger production ended in December, and the Dodge/Ram Dakota died in August 2011. Will either of those models return to the U.S. market? In the case of Ram, it sounds like the answer is no.
While Chrysler's Ram division has often talked about the possibility of a small unibody truck, officials tell us such a model would be a difficult proposition. The 2013 Ram 1500 is so fuel efficient and so affordable, that a smaller truck would need to meet incredibly high targets in order to make sense in the brand's lineup. The 2013 Ram 1500 returns as much as 18/25 mpg (city/highway) in its new HFE configuration, and the cheapest model starts at just $23,585 after destination.
That means a smaller Ram pickup would have to exceed 25 mpg and cost less than $20,000 in order to remain relevant -- ambitious goals, to say the least.
That's not to say Ram is totally opposed to building a new compact truck. Officials tell us that such a vehicle is never off the table, and the company has repeatedly hinted it would build a new version of the Dakota. But rather than a traditional truck, we're told the new model could be more of a "lifestyle" vehicle designed to give truck design and practicality, without the attendant weight and capabilities of a mid- or full-size model.
In January, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested that Ram could build a new Dakota pickup truck powered by a diesel engine. Then in July, we heard another set of rumors about Ram building a unibody lifestyle compact pickup -- it wouldn't have the towing or hauling capabilities of bigger trucks, but it would introduce young buyers to the brand. On the other hand, last fall we were told the next Dakota would be a global model engineered for export to other parts of the world.
There's plenty of precedence for Ram to build a new compact truck -- witness the hearty reactions to the company's old Rampage and M80 concepts (pictured), and the excitement from rumors of a new Jeep Wrangler-based pickup truck.
It's also an important business decision. Ford hoped that after it discontinued the Ranger, loyal buyers would instead buy the larger F-150. But reports show that customers still wanted a compact pickup and instead bought Toyota Tacomas. Ford has introduced an all-new global Ranger model, but the truck won't be sold in the U.S. market.
With fresh competition on the scene from the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, now seems like the perfect time for Ram to introduce a compact pickup truck. Doing so would help Ram grab some of the sales currently enjoyed by the GM pickup twins, as well as the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma.
But for now, Ram officials claim the brand is lukewarm on the idea of a compact truck.