Chrysler, through its Dodge Truck division, started a new line of vehicles in 1987 to compete in the mid-size pickup truck market—the Dakota. Known for their impressive handling and versatility, the Dakota was one of the industry’s most successful line of trucks. Though the line already ceased production after 25 years, its four generations still spanned various innovations that are not only considered as classic but award-winning as well.
1987: First generation
With its excellent fuel economy and handling capacity, the first generation of Dakotas was released in 1987. Although they shared most of their parts with other vehicles manufactured by Chrysler, the first gens were still a success. In fact, a year after its debut, a new Dakota package—Sport—was added to the line. And in 1989, a convertible model was released which sold approximately 2,482 units.
1991: Second generation
Introduced in 1991, the second generation of Dakotas received some aesthetic changes. Some of the notable ones were the revamped grille and longer engine compartment. Dodge decided to make the engine compartment longer to fit the 5.2 L V8 engine that could produce up to 170 hp although this engine only came as an optional feature. A year after the second gens were introduced, the classic square sealed beam headlamps were replaced with molded plastic ones that contained halogen bulbs.
1997: Third generation
With its restyled semi-truck look, the third generation Dodge Dakota was released in 1997. However, although the 1997 models were somehow redesigned, they still had the same parts underneath. In 1998, as part of the same generation, a limited edition package was released. Known as the R/T, this package was made as an option for Dakota Sports and featured a 5.9 liter V8 engine, performance exhaust, updated brakes, and rear-wheel drive.
2005: Fourth generation
Manufactured under the same platform as the Durango SUV, the last generation of Dakotas was released in 2005. The fourth gens were known for having updated rear and front suspensions, rack-and-pinion steering systems, and longer and wider bodies. However, in order to cut production cost and save assembly time, this generation went back from having six-lugged wheels to the old five lugs. Two years after their release, the fourth generation Dakotas underwent another facelift. Some of the significant changes that were done during that time were the increase in towing capacity, use of the best standard bed, and installation of heated bench seats. In 2010, the Dakota fell under Ram even though the Dodge emblem was still used. Unfortunately, Chrysler decided to pull the plug on the Dakota line in 2011 because of the dropping sales of light trucks particularly in North America.