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1996 Dodge Dakota Overview
At some point, the designers of the Dodge Dakota must have thought of the story of the three bears. It's smaller than a full-size pickup, a bit larger than a compact, designed for people who want the power, room and toughness of a full-size truck with the value, style and maneuverability of a compact. The Dakota became the first midsize pickup--self-anointed--when it was introduced as a 1987 model. It still holds that distinction today, though compact pickups--Ford Rangers, GMC Sonomas and Chevrolet S-Series--have gotten bigger. Dodge is so bullish on its midsize truck that it doesn't even sell a compact. That makes business sense, because sales of compact pickups have recently been declining. Compact pickups were bought by millions of baby boomers in the 1970s and 1980s, people who wanted the utility and image of a truck without the higher prices and bigger parking requirements of a full-sized model. Compact pickups in those days came with low prices and competed with subcompact sedans. Nowadays the price of a loaded compact pickup puts it in the same territory as lower-priced sports cars, mini sport-utility vehicles and midsize sedans. Many compact trucks still have an attractive base price, but the average transaction prices are much higher. A modestly equipped compact pickup typically tops $15,000. The higher prices have driven many of the new generation of entry-level buyers away. And the baby boomers are now older, raising families, making more money and are driving roomier, higher-priced sport-utilities and luxury sedans. Auto makers blame the higher prices on increasing safety and emissions regulations. This has left manufacturers with three basic choices: Wage the price war with stripper models devoid of profit, market loaded high-end trucks with strong image, or get out of the compact truck business. Ford, Chevrolet and GMC are fighting in the trenches with their competitively priced compacts. Toyota has gone upscale with its sporty Tacoma 4wd trucks. Nissan's compact truck is showing its age, Mazda's B-Series trucks are Ford Rangers with a different front end and Mitsubishi has given up on the segment. The Dakota straddles the fence. It competes with the compacts in terms of price, while offering a little more size, as well as the only V8 engine option south of a full-size truck. While a Dakota can be appealing to small businesses that don't need a full-size truck, most of them are bought for personal use. People use them to haul snowmobiles, personal water craft, surf boards. Or they buy the 4X4 Sport model and turn it into an image machine.