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Chrysler Considering Car-Based Small Pickup

Today's small pickup segment isn't what it once was when Ford Rangers, Chevy S-10s and Toyota Tacomas were a common sight. Rising gas prices and falling demand have effectively managed to shrink small truck sales by 15.2 percent in 2007 and 24.2 percent in 2008. Now, despite the Pontiac G8 ST's cancellation, Chrysler is looking at creating its own car-based pickup.

The Detroit News reported in an interview with Chrysler product development chief Frank Klegon that customers are now looking for a lighter-duty, multipurpose vehicle that boasts the fuel efficiency of a car and a price significantly lower than a full size truck.

Despite its refresh for 2008, Chrysler's current small truck, the Dodge Dakota, is simply outdated. Klegon described its new small truck as having front-wheel drive with all-wheel-drive capability, and could be powered by a direct-injection and turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

If Chrysler's past concepts are any indication, the Dakota's predecessor will be built on a unibody platform like the Honda Ridgeline. The 2002 Dodge M80 concept and the 2006 Dodge Rampage concept (shown above) were prime examples. Alternatively, the next small truck could go an entirely different route like the recently deceased, El Camino-resembling Pontiac G8 ST.

A possible obstacle for a unibody Dakota is ensuring that it could stand up to the regular abuse dished out by pickup owners. However, Klegon says the Dakota offers "far more capability than most people need." If efficiency-minded buyers are not as concerned with the truck's payload capabilities, it could benefit from a smaller engine and reduced weight.

A car-based pickup from Chrysler could be closer than we think. Not only does the automaker face falling sales, but a changing CAFE could result in drastically different standards. Chrysler will need to make some major changes to ensure its small truck does not become obsolete.