FCA US appears to be moving forward with plans to introduce a new midsize pickup truck to complement the Jeep Gladiator. And there is an early, familiar contender for the name of the truck.
The company on April 29 filed a trademark application for the name "Dakota," related to "parts for vehicles, namely, automotive exterior decorative trim," according to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office posting.
Ram dropped the midsize Dakota pickup in 2011 after a 25-year run. For years, the Dakota was a mainstay of the Dodge lineup.
General Motors and Ford have resurrected midsize trucks in recent years, in part to offer consumers a lower-priced alternative to full-size pickups, which are among the industry's most profitable light vehicles.
U.S. sales of midsize pickups rose 22 percent to nearly 640,000 in 2019. First-quarter demand slipped 0.9 percent.
Among U.S. truck buyers, the Dakota name is widely recognized with plenty of equity and "no notable negative associations," according to Ed Kim, head of industry analysis at AutoPacific.
"Since the original Dakota’s introduction, the rest of the smaller truck market followed its lead over time and also grew larger in size," Kim said. "With all these factors lined up, it is absolutely logical for FCA to resurrect the Dakota name."
FCA CEO Mike Manley said a year ago that Ram product planners and engineers are "focused on solving a metric ton midsize truck solution for us because it's a big part of the portfolio and growth we want to achieve."
At that time, Manley made clear it was coming down to how best to execute a platform to ensure the midsize Ram pickup is profitable.
"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 said. "I want that problem solved, frankly, because it's a clear hole in our portfolio. It will not be filled by Gladiator because Gladiator is a very, very different mission. Trust me, they're focused on it. We need to get it fixed soon."
Suppliers told Automotive News last year that the midsize Ram pickup would be built in Toledo, Ohio, at the same plant where the all-new Gladiator is produced. A release timeline is still uncertain.
Automotive News previously forecasted the vehicle would be “new in 2022” while Motor Trend, in a story this week, said a new Dakota could arrive as early as the 2021 model year.
FCA, citing the coronavirus outbreak, has been forced to delay the introduction of several key models, such as a redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee and an all-new Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
In Canada, the Dakota trademark application prompted Unifor to begin lobbying FCA to build the truck in Windsor, Ontario, where the company builds minivans.
In an early-morning Facebook post Thursday, Unifor Local 444, which represents about 5,000 workers at FCA’s minivan plant, called on the automaker to build a midsize pickup at the factory.
“To be clear, Ram has *not officially announced its intention to launch a new Dakota just yet. However, while FCA *may have applied for a Dakota trademark to protect itself from others using the name, it does signal that the company may actually use the name in the coming years,” Unifor Local 444 posted on its Facebook page Thursday at about 1 a.m. ET. “If you want it built right, build it Windsor! It’s what we do!!”
FCA Canada wasn't immediately available for comment.