The compact pickup segment received yet another blow recently as Chrysler announced it has ended production of its Dakota pickup. With the small truck's demise, Chrysler joins Ford and General Motors among automakers who have outlines plans to pull out of the declining segment.
Chrysler says Dakota production at the Warren, Michigan plant where the truck was assembled since its 1987 debut is already finished, leading to questions about the future of the plant and small trucks in general. While the plant also produces light-duty versions of the Ram pickup, many workers face uneasy futures, though Chrysler is certain most will be redeployed to other facilities.
What's less certain is whether the small truck segment will continue to survive. After Dakota sales peaked in 2000 with around 177,000 units sold, the small truck has been losing popularity ever since, hitting just 13,000 sales last year. Ford recently announced plans to withdraw its Ranger from the segment, which accounts for less than 5 percent of total industry sales, while the future of General Motors' Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon is also uncertain.
So why have small truck sales been stalling? For one, pickup truck shoppers seem to prefer larger trucks. While Ford delivered just over 6,000 Rangers last month, it sold nearly 50,000 units of its larger F-series pickup, which remains the best-selling vehicle in the United States. The same is true at Chrysler, where Dakota sales were limited to less than 1,000 units versus more than 20,000 Ram sales.
Among midsize pickups, only Toyota's Tacoma remains popular, consistently selling around 9,000 units per month. So far in 2011, Tacoma sales are up more than 2 percent compared to the same period in 2010, and Toyota recently hinted at plans to redesign the truck rather than cancel it.
But serious Dodge fans are unlikely to be swayed by a Toyota. Fortunately for such Dodge loyalists, there are still many brand-new Dakotas still on dealer lots, including more than 2,200 offered on AutoTrader.com.