An all-new rival to the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger could be coming to Australia soon, thanks to American brand Ram, and local distributer Ateco.
Ram’s parent company FCA filed for a Dakota trademark in the US last month. This reignited rumours that a Ram dual-cab, wearing the Dakota badge, was in the pipeline.
The Dakota badge has a long history with Dodge, being fitted to mid-size products from the company for over three decades. Production of the Dodge Dakota ran from 1987 to 2011.
It’s no secret that Ram wants a smaller entry-level model in its range, and has said it will build what the Americans refer to as a mid-size pick-up (a dual-cab to us), by 2022.
FCA boss Mike Manley has also been adamant about the need of a dual-cab sized model in its line-up.
While there is a similarly sized rival already within the FCA family in the new Jeep Gladiator, Manley has said the Gladiator and Dakota will have very different missions. One is an off-road focused adventure ute, while the Ram is a proposition with more widespread appeal.
"Being able to find a cost-effective platform in a region where we can build it with low cost and it still being applicable in the market is what they're struggling with at the moment," Manley told Automotive News in 2019.
"I want that problem solved, frankly, because it's a clear hole in our portfolio."
While they will serve different purposes, it’s likely the Dakota and Gladiator will share some key components, and could even be built alongside each other at FCA’s plant in Toledo, Ohio.
Another possibility is that the Dakota is built on a smaller, modified version of the chassis which sits underneath the Ram 1500, and be built in Saltillo, Mexico. This would reduce production costs for a vehicle that is targeting a budget-conscious consumer.
With the Middle East also a key market for this size of vehicle, it’s possible the Dakota could be built from the factory in right-hand drive, ruling out the need for an expensive conversion process on Australian soil, and keeping sticker prices in line with rivals.
Read next: Custom purpose-built Ram 2500 Limited review
As for engines, a 5.7-litre naturally-aspirated petrol V8 like that found in the Ram 1500 is almost certainly off the table for the Dakota. FCA has a new generation 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 which can be found in certain 1500 variants in the US, and would be perfectly suited to this class of vehicle.
When fitted to the Ram 1500, the engine produces 190kW and 650Nm, and is rated to tow as much as 5697kg.
In Australia, the Jeep Gladiator is only offered with a 3.6-litre naturally-aspirated V6, making 209kW and 347Nm. It is currently the only petrol-powered dual-cab on the market.
Americans would likely to be treated to Ford Ranger Raptor-fighting model – likely badged Rebel – that would be a tantalising prospect Down Under.
In terms of towing ability and payload capacity, the Jeep Gladiator would be a good (but not final) indicator of performance, which is rated at 2721kg braked and 620kg respectively.
In Australia the Ram 1500 is generously equipped, even on entry-level models, and we’d hope the Dakota gets similar treatment.
While there is no confirmation of when or if a future Ram dual-cab would arrive in Australia, the local distributor Ateco remains in close contact with Ram in the US.
A local spokesperson wouldn’t comment on future product, but admitted that a dual-cab sized model would be a natural fit for Australia.
If the Dakota goes into production, expect the model to be on the wish list for Australia, offering an affordable entry point to the brand alongside the larger and more expensive 1500 pick-ups